Tag Archives: water history

June 8, 1909: Leal and Fuller Papers Presented at AWWA Conference

Dr. John L. Leal

June 8, 1909:  John L. Leal, George W. Fuller and George A. Johnson present papers at the AWWA annual conference on this day in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the chloride of lime treatment system at Boonton Reservoir, New Jersey.  Unlike previous presentations on the addition of disinfection chemicals to water, the three papers were received enthusiastically by the audience.  The then President of AWWA, William P. Mason, stated in the discussion section of the papers, “…when I first came in contact with this process I was a very strong disbeliever; in fact, I am on record in print as not approving of the process.  I have been converted, however…because of the results of many experiments. I found, very greatly to my surprise, that the dose was exceedingly small that was required to produce satisfactory treatment.” The full story of the chlorination of the Jersey City water supply can be found in The Chlorine Revolutionwhich was published in April 2013.

“Testimony at the second Jersey City trial described the plant facilities in some detail, and later publications gave an overview of the facilities along with selected design details.

Figure 10.1-Schematic of chloride of lime feed system at Boonton Reservoir 1908

Figure 10-1 is a schematic of the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton. According to Fuller’s testimony, he made only nine engineering design drawings to guide the contractor during construction of the plant. For an equivalent facility today, dozens of drawings would be required.

The chloride of lime facility was housed in a one-story wooden building that was constructed adjacent to the gate house located at the foot of Boonton Dam. In addition to all of the mechanical equipment required to feed chloride of lime, the building housed a small laboratory used to perform simple chemical tests and to conduct bacteriological examinations.

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

The concentrated chloride of lime powder was put into dissolving tanks along with dilution water from the reservoir (Figure 10-1). Typically, the bleaching powder contained 35 percent available chlorine. A highly concentrated solution of chloride of lime was made in the dissolving tanks and then fed by gravity into the solution tanks. More dilution water was added to the solution tanks to create the desired strength for the chloride of lime mixture. Triplicate pairs of dissolving and solution tanks allowed the operator to produce large batches (about 10,000 gallons each) of 0.5–1 percent dilute solutions.

A belt-driven turbine pump4 (in duplicate) moved the dilute solution up to one of the two orifice tanks. The orifice tanks were positioned at a relatively high elevation, enabling them to feed chlorine solution by gravity into the chamber below. The chamber was downstream of the 48-inch pipelines connecting the outlet tower of the dam to the pipeline delivering water to Jersey City. Duplicate orifice tanks were a critical design factor because chloride of lime in 0.5–1 percent solutions tended to build up solid deposits on the sides of the orifice plate and obstruct the opening.”

Reference:  McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.


June 7, 1991: Lead Copper Rule Published

June 7, 1991:  “In 1991, EPA published the Lead and Copper Ruleto minimize lead and copper in drinking water. The rule replaced the previous standard of 50 ppb, measured at the entry point to the distribution system. The rule established a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) of zero for lead in drinking water and a treatment technique to reduce corrosion within the distribution system….

Lead and copper enter drinking water primarily through plumbing materials. Exposure to lead and copper may cause health problems ranging from stomach distress to brain damage. On June 7, 1991, EPA published a regulation to control lead and copper in drinking water. This regulation is known as the Lead and Copper Rule (also referred to as the LCR or 1991 Rule).

The treatment technique for the rule requires systems to monitor drinking water at customer taps. If lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 ppb or copper concentrations exceed an action level of 1.3 ppm in more than 10% of customer taps sampled, the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion. If the action level for lead is exceeded, the system must also inform the public about steps they should take to protect their health and may have to replace lead service lines under their control.”

Commentary:  This short entry hardly seems worthy of a regulation and a water quality problem that has captured the imagination of politicians, citizens and the media. The Flint Crisis crystalizes a few important issues in this complicated regulation, which was not applied properly in Flint, MI, after a change in water source on April 25, 2014. For an in depth exploration of the issues and problems of the Flint Crisis, consult the July 2016 issue of the Journal American Water Works Association.

The front of the Flint Water Plant is seen in Flint, Michigan January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

June 6, 1912: Filth in Water for Columbus, IN and Sidewalks in Venice, CA

June 6, 1912:  Municipal Journalarticles.

Much Filth in Water.“Columbus, Ind.-Local people have been sickened by the filth that has been taken from the water works, which is being cleaned. The water is pumped from the river into a well through a thirty-six-inch main, and is then drawn from the well into the city mains. Nearly a car load of mud, slime, filth, sand, bullfrogs, turtles, eels, fish, etc., have been taken from the well and dumped over the breakwater near the water works in the river. William Stillinger, an engineer at the water works, has the job of crawling in the main that runs under the river to the old infiltration gallery. The pumps at the water works keep the water in this main at a fixed depth. Should they stop Stillinger would be drowned. J. C. Rush, chief engineer of the water works, says fully three car loads of filth and mud will be taken from the well before the work is finished.”

Commentary:  Notice that the water is untreated in any way. No wonder the sight of all the stuff in the raw water made them sick.

Arcaded Sidewalks.“A novel suggestion from Venice. California, is the use of arcaded sidewalks for the business streets. As the photograph shows, these add to the beauty of the street when the architecture conforms to the style rendered necessary by the arches. In this case the inspiration is direct from Italy, but the California Missions or the German Renaissance would afford equally good models for this arcaded sidewalk plan. Arcades similar in plan, but less pretentious architecturally, may be found in old English cities also. The advantages are various. The protection for the shoppers from sun and storm makes the arcades as busy in bad weather as in fine, to the profit of the merchant. The property owner secures additional floor space above the ground floor, and this should make the plan of interest to builders on a limited area. The beauty of the design is undeniable.

Commentary:  This article has nothing to do with the history of water, but it refers to arcaded sidewalks in a neighboring city (to Santa Monica) that are as beautiful today as they were in 1912. Every time I see them, I think what a great idea they were. The editors of the Municipal Journal sometimes waxed philosophic about a particularly interesting aspect of municipal design.

June 2, 1909: Jersey City Guards Pipeline Route

June 2, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. Guards to Stop Water Company. “Jersey City, N. J.-Engineer J. W. Griffin, of the Jersey City Water Department, has received word that the East Jersey Water Company or its allied interests are trying to lay a pipe line along the Arlington road at the northern end of Hudson County to connect with North Arlington in Bergen County. To prevent the laying of this pipe without permission two deputy sheriffs have been stationed at the Arlington road to keep tabs on the water company employees and guard against surprises. Jersey City and the Suburban Water Company are both trying to make a contract with Borough of North Arlington. Jersey City has offered to supply Boonton water at $6o a million gallons. The Suburban Water Company, which is allied with the East Jersey, has offered to supply water from the Passaic River shed at $82.50 per million gallons. The North Arlington officials have the two offers under consideration.”

Commentary:  This dust up was happening at the same time as the second trial of the lawsuit filed by Jersey City against the private water company, Jersey City Water Supply Company (also related to the East Jersey Water Company—see my book The Chlorine Revolutionfor more details). Many of the water disputes during this period can be understood if one inspects the business relationships between companies and between cities. Jersey City selling excess water at a profit from the Boonton Reservoir was one of the reasons why they had the water supply created in the first place.

June 1, 1915: Common Cup for Horses

June 1, 1915:  Municipal Journalarticle. Watering Horses in Cities. “The years 1914 and 1915 saw an epidemic of glanders in several sections of the Atlantic coast states, and many cities closed their existing horse drinking fountains, as it was believed that the disease was spread by the common use of bowls or troughs. Instead, drivers were asked, or required by ordinance, to carry with each horsedrawn vehicle a pail for watering horses. It remained to provide facilities for filling these pails, and this was done in different ways.

In Boston, New Bedford and some other cities, fountains of the horse bowl type known as the H. F. Jenks pattern were adapted as follows: The bowls were removed and replaced with new castings containing three or more self-closing faucets, designed with a special view to being non-freezable. This appears to have given entire satisfaction.

Commentary:  This article is interesting on at least two levels. Transportation of goods and people by horse was still prevalent in 1915 in cities. The automobile was making definite inroads but there were still millions of horses in cities across the U.S. (21.5 million in one estimate of all domestic horses in 1915). In 1908, Henry Ford started production of the Model T automobile that would revolutionize transportation in the U.S.

Glanders is an infectious disease in horses and other animals that is caused by the bacterium Burkhoderia mallei. The disease can result in coughing, fever and the release of an infectious nasal discharge. The serious form of the disease can result in death of the animal. The bacterium can infect humans. In 1915 with the heightened awareness of human diseases passed by intimate contact with contaminated items, it is only reasonable to protect horses from the same contamination route. If banning the common cup for

May 30, 1937: Death by Manhole Cover; 1923: Death of Rudolph Hering; 1912: Death of Wilbur Wright

May 30, 1937:  Death by Manhole Cover. “When a subterranean explosion tossed many manhole covers on Fullerton Avenue into the air yesterday, one of the lids was blown high and crashed down the elevator shaft of the Hollander Storage and Moving Company at 2418 Milwaukee Avenue, killing the elevator operator, A.C. Day, 57 years old, of 5642 Melrose Street. Two others on the freight elevator were slightly injured. Dotted line shows missile’s path.”

Commentary:  The graphic says it all. I did a little research and it turns out that people being killed by flying manhole covers is not that weird a thing. A story in the Los Angeles Timessummarized a lot of the fatal events.

Reference:  Chicago Sunday Tribune. 1937. “One Killed When Blast Flips Manhole Cover.” May 30.

Rudolph Hering

May 30, 1923:  Death of Rudolph Hering. “Although Dr. Hering was one of the first to recommend mechanical filters for pumping the water supplies at Atlanta, and elsewhere, and was connected with important water supply investigations at New York, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Columbus, Montreal, Minneapolis and numerous smaller places, his accomplishments were greatest in the field of sewerage and sewage disposal and led to his having been designated years ago as the ‘Dean of Sanitary Engineering” in this country. Recognition of such standing was perhaps first made by President Harrison, who, in 1889, appointed him Chairman of a Commission to prepare a program for sewerage improvements for Washington, D. C.

Dr. Hering was an active worker on the committees of various professional organizations as well as civic movements. His most important work was undoubtedly that for the American Public Health Association in the matter of the collection and disposal of refuse. He gathered statistics as to results of operation and otherwise elucidated practice in this country and Europe. Some twenty-five years ago he gave liberally of his own time and money for gathering information upon this subject, although his activities in the field of water supply and sewerage did not permit him to publish the results of his investigations in the disposal of solid wastes of the municipalities.

Dr. Hering was in partnership with George W. Fuller, M. Am. Soc. C. E., from 1901 to 1911 and with John H. Gregory, M. Am. Soc. C. E., from 1911 to 1915. After the latter date his activities were confined largely to work upon a book on ‘Collection and Disposal of Refuse’ of which he was a joint author with Samuel A. Greeley, M. Am. Soc. C. E….

He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, and an honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute at Dresden in 1922. He was a member of a large number of engineering societies both in this country and in Europe. He was an honorary member of the New England Water Works Association and of the American Water Works Association and a Past President of the American Public Health Association. He became a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1876, was Director in 1891, 1897 to 1899, and Vice President in 1900 to 1901.”

Reference:  “Rudolph Hering.” 1924. Journal AWWA. 11:1(January): 305.

May 30, 1912:Wilbur Wright dies of typhoid fever.

The year 1908 signaled the beginning of drinking water disinfection in the U.S. A lot of important things happened in that year and later.  Jim Rasenberger in his book, America 1908, chronicled the technological, exploration, political and sociological milestones in the U.S. during 1908.  On the first page of his book, he stated succinctly the thrills attendant to the year, “…1908, by whatever quirk of history or cosmology, was one hell of a ride around the sun.”  During these 366 days, the Wright brothers amazed the world with extended flights of heavier-than-air machines, the Model T went into production, two explorers reached for the North Pole, a 20,000 mile race in automobiles from New York to Paris was started and completed, a new President was elected, the national pastime captured the attention of the country in a strange pennant race, the Great White fleet started its round-the-world cruise and deadly race riots and other violence scarred the national conscience.

The capstone to 1908 was a two-hour and twenty minute flight by Wilbur Wright on December 31 in a suburb of Paris, which shattered all previous records for continuous flight.  For manned flight, this was truly a major year.  “In tracing the development of aeronautics, the historian of the future will point to the year 1908 as that in which the problem of mechanical flight was first mastered…”

To put the achievements of the Wright brothers in the context of their time and the history of application of scientific principles, part of Wilbur’s obituary summed up their accomplishments.

“The death of Wilbur Wright has brought intense personal sorrow to all who were in any way associated with him…The science of aviation has lost its greatest student, and in time to come the name of Wilbur Wright will be recorded in the annals of invention with the names of such pioneers as Robert Fulton, Stephenson (first steam locomotive engine), Bell, and others who have given to the world the value of practical experiments and successful achievements.”  (emphasis added)

Thus, Wilbur Wright was not the first person to gaze at a bird and wonder how humans could fly.  Nor was he the first person to build an airplane and try to lift off the ground.  He and his brother, Orville, were the first to actually accomplish powered flight, but, more importantly, they demonstrated in a practical manner how to control that flight.  Once again, technological progress is made by those who make an idea work.   An original idea without practical implementation is just a waste of oxygen feeding the brain.

Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever on May 30, 1912. He was just 45 years old.  Four years earlier, he had astonished the world with his extended flights near Paris.  What might he have achieved in continued partnership with his brother, Orville, had he not been struck down so early?  The disinfection revolution did not spread fast enough to save the life of this inventor and world-renowned figure.  But chlorination did travel fast enough and far enough to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of future inventors, engineers and scientists who transformed the U.S. and the world with their creativity.

What does the author of America 1908 make of the disinfection revolution that occurred during this seminal year a few miles from the center of his story, New York City?  Not surprisingly, no mention is made of the events that occurred at Boonton Reservoir.  Only passing mention is made of public health and water supply with millions dying from infectious diseases, a cholera epidemic in Manila when the Great White Fleet visited and the construction of a new water supply by Mulholland for Los Angeles. The cause of Wright’s typhoid fever has been described as coming from various sources.  Wilbur’s obituary mentioned bad fish in a Boston restaurant, but the author of the obituary had no particular reason for believing that was the source.   The only thing that appears to be certain is that he contracted the disease on a business trip back East (that is, east of Dayton, Ohio).

As noted in the previous chapter, chlorination had been instituted in hundreds of U.S. cities by 1912 but the typhoid death rate was still high.  Boston had a typhoid fever death rate of 8 per 100,000 in 1912.  In the same year, Washington, DC and Baltimore had typhoid death rates of 22 and 24 per 100,000.   Wilbur Wright more likely died from contaminated water rather than bad fish.

Reference:  McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

May 29, 1953: Death of Earle B. Phelps

May 29, 1953:  Death of Earle B. Phelps.“Earle Bernard Phelps(1876–1953) was a chemist, bacteriologist and sanitary expert who served in governmental positions and as an academic in some of the leading universities in the U.S. He is known for his contributions in sewage disinfection, water chlorination, sewage treatment, milk pasteurization, shellfish control, and for describing the “oxygen sag curve” in surface water bodies….

After graduating from MIT and until 1903, Phelps worked as an assistant bacteriologist at the famous Lawrence Experiment Station in Lawrence, Massachusetts. From 1903 until 1911, he was a chemist/microbiologist with the Sanitary Research Laboratory at MIT. He also taught at MIT during this period as an assistant professor of chemistry and biology. Early in his career, he investigated a typhoid fever epidemic at the State Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey. During this same period, he worked for the U.S. Geological Survey as an assistant hydrographer. In part, he worked on the purification of industrial wastes and he began his investigations on stream pollution with that agency. In 1910 to 1911 he conducted groundbreaking research with Colonel William M. Black of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the pollution of New York Harbor. This work established for the first time the concept of using dissolved oxygen concentrations in the water as a measure of water quality in the harbor.

In 1913, he left MIT and became the head of the Chemistry Division at the U.S. Hygienic Laboratory in Washington, DC., which was part of the U.S. Public Health Service. Phelps worked with H. W. Streeter who was a sanitary engineer with the Public Health service on the characterization of oxygen depletion in a stream receiving organic wastes. The Streeter-Phelps equation was the first quantitative model that was used to determine the impact of biochemical oxygen demand discharges to surface water bodies. Their equation led to deterministic modeling which made it possible to limit specific discharges from waste treatment plants.

In 1919, Phelps left the Hygienic Laboratory to accept an academic position at Stanford University. Later, he also taught at Columbia University from 1925 until 1943. From 1944 until his death in 1953 he was a professor of sanitary science at the University of Florida at Gainesville. He has been described as a gifted teacher who generously shared his knowledge with his associates and students.

Phelps had a long and distinguished career as a consulting sanitary expert. He worked for many cities helping them resolve problems with water treatment and sewage disposal. From 1907 to 1909, he was a consulting expert for the New Jersey Sewerage Commission. He visited all of the sewage disposal plants in the state and made annual reports on the results of his inspections. He also was retained by the Sewerage Commission of Baltimore, Maryland as a consulting expert in relation to experiments with sewage disposal. Phelps supervised the design and construction of a large number of sewage purification plants including those at Toronto, Canada, Tarrytown, New York, Rahway, New Jersey and Torrington, Connecticut.”

Commentary:  This article is taken from the Wikipedia entry that I wrote for Phelps. I knew him from his participation as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the second Jersey City trial that I described in The Chlorine Revolution. He was incredibly accomplished and contributed to many of the water specialties that we engage in today.