Tag Archives: water quality

February 1, 1919: Influenza in New York State and Reservoir Maintenance

Policemen in Seattle wearing masks made by the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic. December 1918.

Policemen in Seattle wearing masks made by the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic. December 1918.

February 1, 1919: Article in Municipal Journal. Declares Influenza Cause Is Unknown. “Albany, N. Y.-According to a statement by Dr. Hermann M. Biggs, state commissioner of health, in this state in the month of October alone approximately 32,000 lives were lost, while in the country as a whole 400,000 people are believed to have died of so-called influenza during the months of September, October and November. “It is questionable,” says the statement, “if any recorded epidemic has produced in a similar space of time such disastrous results, yet, despite the efforts of an army of research workers both here and abroad, the definite causative agent of the disease remains today unknown. Until proof to the contrary is forthcoming it must be assumed that the epidemic represented a very virulent form of the same disease which has spread throughout the world from time to time for many centuries, and numerous excellent records of which are available for study in medical literature. At the present time there is no exact diagnostic procedure which may be relied upon positively to differentiate epidemic influenza from severe ‘colds’ accompanied by fever, cough and prostration, and frequently followed by pneumonia, such colds being due to a variety of well-known organisms. Nevertheless there are certain fairly characteristic symptoms in typical cases of epidemic influenza which at present justify a clinical diagnosis of that disease.”

Commentary: While influenza is not transmitted by water, the occurrence of articles like this in the engineering literature of the times shows how devastating the disease was in the U.S.

0201 Reservoir OpsFebruary 1, 1919: Article in Municipal Journal. Waterworks Operation—Reservoir Maintenance. Drawing Off Foul Bottom Water-Removing Vegetation from Exposed Bottom-Preventing and Destroying Algae. “Water in reservoirs in the great majority of cases improves in character by standing, suspended matters settling out and pathogenic bacteria (if any are present) settling with the heavier matters or dying in a few days. Color, also, generally fades out gradually. Part of the improvement is due to oxygen from the air and to sunlight, and the effects of these do not penetrate to any great depth; consequently it is desirable that there be a vertical circulation that will bring to the surface in succession water from all depths. ‘On the other hand, violent circulation or rapid motion will interfere with purification by sedimentation….

Water more than 15 or 20 feet deep is seldom stirred by wind, and any organic matter which may collect below this depth, receiving little oxygen from above, putrefies; color in the water’ at this depth is not bleached; and in general this deep water may become foul, dark colored and ill-smelling unless it receives little or no organic matter to produce such conditions.

In the autumn, the surface water cools more and more as the average air temperature falls, and finally becomes cooler and consequently heavier than the water at the bottom and settles to and displaces such bottom water, forcing it to the top, bringing the accumulated pollution with it. This fall “overturn” often causes this foul water to enter the supply mains.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 46:5(February 1, 1919): 86-7, 92-3.

January 11, 1922: Chlorination of New England water supplies and Demands for Lower Color Content of Drinking Water

0111 NEWWA no cl2January 11, 1922: Two fascinating articles in Engineering and Contracting about the progress of water treatment, regulations and disinfection in U.S. water supplies in 1922.

“The Chlorination of New England Water Supplies.” By William J. Orchard. “One thousand nine hundred and ninety-six: communities In the United States chlorinate water or sewage or both with liquid chlorine. Only 128 or 6 per cent of these are in New England. Twelve are treating sewage, leaving but 116 New England communities chlorinating drinking water. Nearly half, 43 per cent, of these are in Connecticut where 51 communities use liquid chlorine to safeguard their water supplies, 24 are in Maine, 16 are in New Hampshire, 11 in Rhode Island, Massachusetts has nine while Vermont has three communities using liquid chlorine for their water supplies.

Scoring the states in this country in accordance with the number of communities using liquid chlorine and starting with New York in first place with 254, ending with Nevada in 48th place with but one lone chlorinating community we find Connecticut stands 11th, Maine 25th, New Hampshire 30th, Rhode Island 36th, Massachusetts 41st, and Vermont 47th.

A manufacturer of chlorinating equipment naturally asks why this relatively small number of communities using liquid chlorine in certain sections of New England? Now, in trying to answer that question, the speaker appreciates that he is skating on thin ice-dangerously near a deep hole labeled ‘The Johnsonian Controversy,’ and caution dictates that he skate the other way.

But it is a fact that there is more resistance to the chlorination of drinking water in New England than in any other section of the country. Some of this is due to a firm, honest conviction in the purity and safety of unsterilized water supplies-some of this is due to complete deep rooted faith in the absolute efficacy of storage and water shed patrol—but, in the writer’s opinion, the principle cause for this resistance to chlorination in New England Is the marked aversion found In some quarters to the application of chemicals in any form to drinking water. It matters not if, as in the case of sterilization, a barrel full of chlorine will suffice for a Woolworth building filled with water. The objection is to the application of chemicals in any form-no matter what the chemicals may be. This attitude was clearly expressed by one of New England’s most prominent engineers who said to the speaker, ‘Up here we don’t want medicated waters.’”

Commentary: I am not sure what “The Johnsonian Controversy” was but Orchard correctly points out the resistance to chlorination in New England. Antagonism against the use of chemicals in drinking water treatment was, in large part, due to the influence of the Lawrence Experiment Station on the actions of water plants.

Engineering and Contracting article. “Some Features of Present Water Supply Practice.” Nicholas S. Hill, Chairman. “Water Quality Standards—Standards of quality are steadily rising and bid fair to continue doing so. Communities no longer consider safety sufficient, but demand a drinking water of good appearance. This demand has good scientific foundation for the best appearing waters are frequently the safer.

In certain sections, the northeast particularly, waters having colors of 25 or more are still used without complaint. These colors would not be tolerated in western cities supplied with lake or filtered river water, or even in New England. Public opinion is fast getting in a position to demand water of an average color of 10 parts per million or less with a maximum of 15. Particular objection is made to colored surface waters containing odoriferous organisms and turbidity, whether due to heavy microscopic growths, to clay, or to iron rust, is also objectionable.

While the bacteriological standard of the U. S. Public Health Service [1914] met with considerable criticism because of its alleged severity and because it excluded certain water supplying communities in which good public health conditions prevailed. It can not be denied that those who are aiming to supply waters of high quality are trying to equal or better this standard which, as is well known, commands that all waters used in inter-state commerce shall contain no gas-forming organisms (presumably B. coli) in at least three out of five portions of 10 c.c. from the sample tested. One reason for this appreciation is the improvement in public health diagnosis; this, in turn, to better vital statistics, better organization of the health authorities and refinements in clinical methods.”

Commentary: Only 14 years after chlorination began to eradicate waterborne disease, an enlightened public began to demand higher quality water—as they should.

Reference: Engineering and Contracting. 1922. 57:2(January 11, 1922): 22-3.

December 12, 2004: Healing Waters of Japan—Watered Down

Outdoor Baths at Hot SpringsDecember 12, 2004: New York Times headline—Watering Down the Healing Waters of Japan. “For foreigners, it is a time-honored image of Japan: a meditative soak in the mineral waters of a hot spring, preferably pondering jagged black volcanic rocks, a bough of cherry blossoms, or even, for the most luxurious, the snow-streaked slopes of Mount Fuji. Few knew that offstage, hotel employees might be surreptitiously piping in heated tap water, recycling old water between natural rock pools or even dumping coloring powders into water to make it look rich in minerals.

For Japanese, who cherish the cleansing, calming and healing mystique of a hot spring, or onsen, vacation, the scandal has almost been as traumatic as Japan’s dispatch of soldiers to Iraq. After a steady drumbeat of confessions and apologies from hot spring owners, this fall the Environment Ministry conducted a survey of water use practices at 19,445 onsens. The results confirmed some of the worst fears of customers, often women who are office workers in their 30’s and who cling to hygienic standards bordering on perfection.

Though anonymity was guaranteed, 40 percent of the nation’s hot spring owners declined to respond to the survey. Of the respondents, about a third said they diluted their hot spring baths with tap water, half said they recycled their water through filters, and half said they heated their water.

Some said they diluted the water to cool it as it boiled out of the earth. Others, more geothermically challenged, resorted to heating the water with industrial gas heaters. About 80 percent of the resorts that admitted to following these practices said they did not inform patrons. While the mineral content of spa water can change, 30 percent of those responding said they had not had their water analyzed in more than 10 years. National laws governing hot springs are vague, and most of these practices are not considered violations.

Weekly newspapers like The Shukan Post have dug deeper, discovering, in one case, a resort town where several spas used as their spa water the condensate from a geothermal power plant. In another town, a spa owner heated tap water, ran it over mineral ores and billed it as mineral water.

These and other reports have shocked the Japanese, who treat their mineral baths with respect bordering on reverence. Japanese universally shower, scrub and rinse themselves before stepping into a hot spring pool or bath. Police raids, the resignation of one resort town’s mayor and the temporary closing of several hotels did not stem the national backlash. Cancellations of thousands of reservations have rippled through the hot springs resort industry. Some customers demanded refunds for past onsen vacations.”

Commentary: In October 1987, 100 international experts in the field of taste and odor in water supplies met in Kagoshima, Japan. The meeting was sponsored by the Off-Flavour Committee of the International Association on Water and Pollution Research and Control (forerunner of the International Water Association). Wednesday of the week-long conference was reserved for field trips to aquaculture farms and water treatment plants. I had seen plenty of both in my many trips in the U.S. and abroad and I was looking for something that was a lot more fun. A friend of mine who is a world-class photographer had published a book about Japanese baths. When he heard that I was going to Kagoshima, he urged me to visit the Jungle Baths. I was not exactly sure what they were, but I was game for an adventure.

I enlisted the aid of our interpreter and I surreptitiously canvassed about 12 of my convention attendees. They were all for it. We rented a van and made the three-hour drive to visit the amazing Jungle Baths which were located south of the city of Kagoshima. It is a resort complex capable of handling several thousand people on the weekends, but during the week it was practically empty. The baths were located in a covered area about the size of three football fields—men on one side and women on the other and bathing suits not allowed. We had a great time sampling all of the pools of different temperatures and levels of salinity. At one point, we were buried up to our necks in hot, black volcanic sand. It was an experience not unlike that of a baked potato. At the end, I took a group picture of the men draped over a fountain with appropriate pieces of personal geography covered. I still have that picture. These experts on taste and odor know who they are. My price for continued discretion is a very large number per person. I will accept only small denomination bills with non-sequential serial numbers.

1212 Black Volcanic Sand

April 23, 1890: General Federation of Women’s Clubs

0423 General Federation of Womens ClubsApril 23, 1890:General Federation of Women’s Clubs founded in the US; conservation and “ecology” among top priorities. Over a million women participated directly in reform efforts during the Progressive era, and the federation developed national committees on forestry, waterways and rivers and harbors. For example, the waterways committee was formed in 1909 to promote water power, clean water and cheaper transportation, according to historian Carolyn Merchant.

“The rationale for women’s involvement [in public health movements] lay in the effect of waterways on every American home: Pure water meant health; impure meant disease and death.” — Carolyn Merchant.

January 11, 1922: Chlorination of New England water supplies and Demands for Lower Color Content of Drinking Water

0111 NEWWA no cl2January 11, 1922: Two fascinating articles in Engineering and Contracting about the progress of water treatment, regulations and disinfection in U.S. water supplies in 1922.

“The Chlorination of New England Water Supplies.” By William J. Orchard. “One thousand nine hundred and ninety-six: communities In the United States chlorinate water or sewage or both with liquid chlorine. Only 128 or 6 per cent of these are in New England. Twelve are treating sewage, leaving but 116 New England communities chlorinating drinking water. Nearly half, 43 per cent, of these are in Connecticut where 51 communities use liquid chlorine to safeguard their water supplies, 24 are in Maine, 16 are in New Hampshire, 11 in Rhode Island, Massachusetts has nine while Vermont has three communities using liquid chlorine for their water supplies.

Scoring the states in this country in accordance with the number of communities using liquid chlorine and starting with New York in first place with 254, ending with Nevada in 48th place with but one lone chlorinating community we find Connecticut stands 11th, Maine 25th, New Hampshire 30th, Rhode Island 36th, Massachusetts 41st, and Vermont 47th.

A manufacturer of chlorinating equipment naturally asks why this relatively small number of communities using liquid chlorine in certain sections of New England? Now, in trying to answer that question, the speaker appreciates that he is skating on thin ice-dangerously near a deep hole labeled ‘The Johnsonian Controversy,’ and caution dictates that he skate the other way.

But it is a fact that there is more resistance to the chlorination of drinking water in New England than in any other section of the country. Some of this is due to a firm, honest conviction in the purity and safety of unsterilized water supplies-some of this is due to complete deep rooted faith in the absolute efficacy of storage and water shed patrol—but, in the writer’s opinion, the principle cause for this resistance to chlorination in New England Is the marked aversion found In some quarters to the application of chemicals in any form to drinking water. It matters not if, as in the case of sterilization, a barrel full of chlorine will suffice for a Woolworth building filled with water. The objection is to the application of chemicals in any form-no matter what the chemicals may be. This attitude was clearly expressed by one of New England’s most prominent engineers who said to the speaker, ‘Up here we don’t want medicated waters.’”

Commentary: I am not sure what “The Johnsonian Controversy” was but Orchard correctly points out the resistance to chlorination in New England. Antagonism against the use of chemicals in drinking water treatment was, in large part, due to the influence of the Lawrence Experiment Station on the actions of water plants.

Engineering and Contracting article. “Some Features of Present Water Supply Practice.” Nicholas S. Hill, Chairman. “Water Quality Standards—Standards of quality are steadily rising and bid fair to continue doing so. Communities no longer consider safety sufficient, but demand a drinking water of good appearance. This demand has good scientific foundation for the best appearing waters are frequently the safer.

In certain sections, the northeast particularly, waters having colors of 25 or more are still used without complaint. These colors would not be tolerated in western cities supplied with lake or filtered river water, or even in New England. Public opinion is fast getting in a position to demand water of an average color of 10 parts per million or less with a maximum of 15. Particular objection is made to colored surface waters containing odoriferous organisms and turbidity, whether due to heavy microscopic growths, to clay, or to iron rust, is also objectionable.

While the bacteriological standard of the U. S. Public Health Service [1914] met with considerable criticism because of its alleged severity and because it excluded certain water supplying communities in which good public health conditions prevailed. It can not be denied that those who are aiming to supply waters of high quality are trying to equal or better this standard which, as is well known, commands that all waters used in inter-state commerce shall contain no gas-forming organisms (presumably B. coli) in at least three out of five portions of 10 c.c. from the sample tested. One reason for this appreciation is the improvement in public health diagnosis; this, in turn, to better vital statistics, better organization of the health authorities and refinements in clinical methods.”

Commentary: Only 14 years after chlorination began to eradicate waterborne disease, an enlightened public began to demand higher quality water—as they should.

Reference: Engineering and Contracting. 1922. 57:2(January 11, 1922): 22-3.

December 12, 2004: Healing Waters of Japan—Watered Down

Outdoor Baths at Hot SpringsDecember 12, 2004: New York Times headline—Watering Down the Healing Waters of Japan. “For foreigners, it is a time-honored image of Japan: a meditative soak in the mineral waters of a hot spring, preferably pondering jagged black volcanic rocks, a bough of cherry blossoms, or even, for the most luxurious, the snow-streaked slopes of Mount Fuji. Few knew that offstage, hotel employees might be surreptitiously piping in heated tap water, recycling old water between natural rock pools or even dumping coloring powders into water to make it look rich in minerals.

For Japanese, who cherish the cleansing, calming and healing mystique of a hot spring, or onsen, vacation, the scandal has almost been as traumatic as Japan’s dispatch of soldiers to Iraq. After a steady drumbeat of confessions and apologies from hot spring owners, this fall the Environment Ministry conducted a survey of water use practices at 19,445 onsens. The results confirmed some of the worst fears of customers, often women who are office workers in their 30’s and who cling to hygienic standards bordering on perfection.

Though anonymity was guaranteed, 40 percent of the nation’s hot spring owners declined to respond to the survey. Of the respondents, about a third said they diluted their hot spring baths with tap water, half said they recycled their water through filters, and half said they heated their water.

Some said they diluted the water to cool it as it boiled out of the earth. Others, more geothermically challenged, resorted to heating the water with industrial gas heaters. About 80 percent of the resorts that admitted to following these practices said they did not inform patrons. While the mineral content of spa water can change, 30 percent of those responding said they had not had their water analyzed in more than 10 years. National laws governing hot springs are vague, and most of these practices are not considered violations.

Weekly newspapers like The Shukan Post have dug deeper, discovering, in one case, a resort town where several spas used as their spa water the condensate from a geothermal power plant. In another town, a spa owner heated tap water, ran it over mineral ores and billed it as mineral water.

These and other reports have shocked the Japanese, who treat their mineral baths with respect bordering on reverence. Japanese universally shower, scrub and rinse themselves before stepping into a hot spring pool or bath. Police raids, the resignation of one resort town’s mayor and the temporary closing of several hotels did not stem the national backlash. Cancellations of thousands of reservations have rippled through the hot springs resort industry. Some customers demanded refunds for past onsen vacations.”

Commentary: In October 1987, 100 international experts in the field of taste and odor in water supplies met in Kagoshima, Japan. The meeting was sponsored by the Off-Flavour Committee of the International Association on Water and Pollution Research and Control (forerunner of the International Water Association). Wednesday of the week-long conference was reserved for field trips to aquaculture farms and water treatment plants. I had seen plenty of both in my many trips in the U.S. and abroad and I was looking for something that was a lot more fun. A friend of mine who is a world-class photographer had published a book about Japanese baths. When he heard that I was going to Kagoshima, he urged me to visit the Jungle Baths. I was not exactly sure what they were, but I was game for an adventure.

I enlisted the aid of our interpreter and I surreptitiously canvassed about 12 of my convention attendees. They were all for it. We rented a van and made the three-hour drive to visit the amazing Jungle Baths which were located south of the city of Kagoshima. It is a resort complex capable of handling several thousand people on the weekends, but during the week it was practically empty. The baths were located in a covered area about the size of three football fields—men on one side and women on the other and bathing suits not allowed. We had a great time sampling all of the pools of different temperatures and levels of salinity. At one point, we were buried up to our necks in hot, black volcanic sand. It was an experience not unlike that of a baked potato. At the end, I took a group picture of the men draped over a fountain with appropriate pieces of personal geography covered. I still have that picture. These experts on taste and odor know who they are. My price for continued discretion is a very large number per person. I will accept only small denomination bills with non-sequential serial numbers.

1212 Black Volcanic Sand

April 23, 1890: General Federation of Women’s Clubs

0423 General Federation of Womens ClubsApril 23, 1890:General Federation of Women’s Clubs founded in the US; conservation and “ecology” among top priorities. Over a million women participated directly in reform efforts during the Progressive era, and the federation developed national committees on forestry, waterways and rivers and harbors. For example, the waterways committee was formed in 1909 to promote water power, clean water and cheaper transportation, according to historian Carolyn Merchant.

“The rationale for women’s involvement [in public health movements] lay in the effect of waterways on every American home: Pure water meant health; impure meant disease and death.” — Carolyn Merchant.