Tag Archives: water supply

July 2, 1914: Denver Threatens to Seize Private Water Plant

1914 photo shows Cheesman Dam with water going over the spillway. This was a common sight until drought and growth of Denver made inroads on the storage supply.

July 2, 1914:  Municipal Journal article. Threatens to Seize Water Plant. “Denver, Colo.-The Denver City Water Company is trying to prevent the city from building its own plant, but has so far lost almost every legal fight. It is now trying to sell the plant to the city. The city is willing to buy, but the officials insist that the figures are too high. To complicate matters the plant broke down in the last few days. For several days portions of the city were without water and at the mercy of fire. Two conduits gave way, and investigation showed that they were worn out. Temporary repairs have restored an almost normal supply, but the opponents of the company say that the weakness of the plant has been exposed. The voters are opposed to the water company’s scheme to sell out to the city, and the city commissioners are supporting the public. Public opinion was disclosed last February at a referendum election, when the taxpayers, by a vote of more than 2 to 1, decided to buy or build a municipal water plant, and voted a bond issue of $8,000,000 for the purpose. It is estimated that if the city should buy the old plant for $8,000,000, or a lower price, $3,000,000 additional would have to be spent to put the plant in fair shape.

A new municipal plant can he built for about $9,000,000. ‘If the water company isn’t giving the city the service it should give, or if it uses any extreme methods, such as cutting off water on the people who are unable to pay for service six months in advance, then we shall exercise the police power imposed in this city and take such steps as may be necessary until the service is restored and the water company employs reasonable methods in the collection of its rates,’ said City Attorney I. N. Stevens.

Finally, by unanimous vote the city commissioners recently agreed to extend indefinitely the provisions of the resolution providing for seizure of the company’s plant if its service shall at any time be adjudged insufficient for the city’s needs. This decision was reached after Commissioners Nisbet and Thurn had declared they believed the company was supplying the city with all the water possible with its present plant. The adoption of this resolution means that no action will be taken at this time by the city to interfere with the water company. It means also that the water company must maintain the present standard of service or risk action looking toward taking control of its system out of its hands.”

Commentary:  The final selling price was $14 million which is interesting given the discussion in the article above. Throughout this period, there was a struggle between public and private ownership of water systems in the U.S.

June 30, 1906: Los Angeles Gets Its Way with Water

William Mulholland

June 30, 1906:  Federal Law Gives Los Angeles Owens Valley Water. “[In 1906] The City hired a prestigious team of engineers to examine the feasibility of the project.  Their report states, “We find the project admirable in conception and outline and full of promise for the continued prosperity of Los Angeles.”  The Board of Water Commissioners appointed William Mulholland, Chief Engineer, Bureau of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

That same year, 1906, the final verdict on the Los Angeles aqueduct was rendered by the highest authority. On May 13th, the City submitted an application for rights of way across federal lands for the purpose of constructing the Aqueduct.

In June, California Senator Frank Flint proposed a bill to grant these rights of way.  It easily passed the Senate but ran into trouble in the House of Representatives where Congressman Sylvester Smith of Inyo County had organized an opposition to the bill.  His argument was that Los Angeles did not require the water now, but was seeking to acquire it for future needs.

The City planned to include power plants in the project.  These power plants would require a constant flow of water.  This water would be transmitted by the City but was not required for domestic use.  The City’s plan was to sell the water for irrigation. Smith argued that irrigation in Southern California should not take place at the expense of irrigation in the Owens Valley.  While Smith negotiated a “no irrigation” compromise, Flint went directly to a higher authority.

His appeal to Theodore Roosevelt met with a sympathetic hearing.  Roosevelt, on June 25th, called a meeting of Flint, Secretary of the Interior Ethan A. Hitchcock, Bureau of Forests Commissioner Gifford Pinchot, and Director of the Geological Survey Charles D. Walcott.  At the end of that meeting Roosevelt dictated the letter which would end the debate,”…yet it is a hundred or a thousand fold more important to the state and more valuable to the people as a whole if used by the city than if used by the people of the Owens Valley.”

On June 30, 1906 Los Angeles had the law which would permit the dream to become a reality. In 1907, the voters of Los Angeles again gave their overwhelming endorsement to this project, approving a $23 million bond issue for aqueduct construction.  The only task that remained was to build it.”

Commentary:  And thus the Los Angeles water wars began.

June 28, 1917: Water Supply for the Army

U.S. Army Cantonment

June 28, 1917:  Municipal Journal article. Preparation of Water Supply for Army. “San Diego, Cal.-The [local] health department has received the following communication from the state board of health signed by C. G. Gillespie, director of the bureau of sanitary engineering: ‘While the San Diego supply easily surpasses any other surface source in California in the amount of laboratory and field supervision given, we are anxious that it be placed in the rank of the best in the country. This is most imperative now by reason of the location of a large army cantonment in your midst. I believe that we shall insist upon chlorination of all water furnished to the troops. In addition, laboratory facilities should be hastened to enable your office to make daily analysis of samples collected on each individual supply, both before and after treatment. Occasionally the sampling should be done early in the day to check up night operation. Within a few weeks I plan to return to San Diego to devote entire attention to the water system. It is hoped that you will have prepared new forms and begun the more systematic collection of pertinent data by that time. I beg to report that we appreciate the steps along this line now undertaken and the good showing in the absence of B. coli with the present frequency of sampling.’”

Commentary:  This article is interesting because the State of California had obviously extended its regulatory powers over a water supply for a federal facility—an army camp constructed to train soldiers for the First World War.

Commentary by Catherine Ma:  Chester Gillespie was the first Chief (1915-1947) of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering (established 1915) in the CA State Department of Public Health.   It’s interesting to note the persuasive but firm tone he used in enjoining a regulated entity to properly treat its water supply—it’s for the Army troops readying for battles, i.e. “ I believe that we shall insist upon chlorination of all water furnished to the troops.” It was nothing like “Thou shall treat or else.”

According to the oral history left to us by Henry Ongerth:  “Chester Gillespie was a tall, slender, very friendly, rather shy person….He had a tremendous knowledge of the details of water supply and sewage disposal all over the State of California. He spent much time making field trips throughout the State and his men all referred to him as “The Chief,” though not when talking to him directly.   At least in the latter part of his career, Chester Gillespie worked largely by persuasion rather than through formal methods of law enforcement.”  Note :   “ …One of the major events of the Gillespie administration was the suit by the State Department of Public Health against the City of Los Angeles.  This suit which went to the State Supreme Count, resulted in a judgment requiring Los Angeles to install treatment for its sewage discharge to the Pacific Ocean.”

Mr. Chester Gillespie was one very classy regulator and public health engineer!

By the way, as far as I can remember and at least for the past three decades, our California Water Program has had regulatory jurisdiction over all federal water systems.

June 27, 1912: Los Angeles Water Supply Plan

June 27, 1912:  Municipal Journal article. Los Angeles New Water Supply. “The plan and construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct  have invited the interest and admiration of the engineer and layman generally throughout the United States both from the great distance-240 miles-that the water is to be carried into the city and the unusual obstacles that have presented themselves. The spectacular and novel methods of building the conduit across the Mojave desert, tunneling mountain ranges and bridging chasms naturally have received the most attention from technical and popular writers. The quality and the quantity of the water have been generally overlooked. For instance, it is not commonly known that Los Angles, after going so far for her water supply, will not depend entirely upon the flow of the Owens River and its tributaries, but will have in addition a very dependable supplementary supply from a large artesian area in the Owens Valley, where a number of wells have been bored. It is the purpose of this article to discuss briefly these two features. The final acquisition of approximately 25,000 acres of artesian lands from the United States Government now makes it possible to discuss this feature of the project.

The principal diversion, of course, is the Owens River at a point in the Owens Valley 11 miles north of the town of Independence, Inyo County, California, and at an elevation of 3,812 feet.”

Commentary:  Of course. The Owens River. What could possibly go wrong?

June 21, 1961: First Practical Desalination Plant; 1881: Filter Inventions

June 21, 1961:  “President John Kennedy pressed a switch installed in his office in Washington DC to dedicate first practical plant for the conversion of seawater to drinking water; built in less than a year at a cost of $1.5 million at Freeport, Texas by the Dow Chemical Co.; capable of producing about a million gallons of water a day, supplying fresh water to the city of Freeport at a cost of about $1.25 per thousand gallons; May 8, 1961 – Office of Saline Water, U.S. Department of the Interior opened the plant; reverse osmosis has replaced large-scale evaporation method used then as scientific advances have produced special polymers suitable for use as filtering membranes.”

Filter Backwash Process

June 21, 1881:  “Patrick Clark, of Rahway, NJ, received a patent for a ‘Process of Cleaning Filter-Beds;’ “…the novelty of the process consists in the employment of jets of water for the purpose of agitating a bed of sand or other suitable granular material which forms the upper part of the filter bed. By this means the silt and other impurities are separated from the sand, and, being of inferior specific gravity, rise above the filter bed, and are removed preferably by a natural current of water in which, when practicable, the apparatus will be immersed”; assigned to Newark Filtering Company (incorporated by Clark, John W. Hyatt, Albert Westervelt in December 1880); origin of modern rapid filter; June 21, 1881 – John W. Hyatt also received a patent for a “Filter”; could be cleaned mechanically; assigned to Newark Filtering Company; prototype for rapid filtration concept.”

June 18, 1940: E.B. Bain Plant Dedicated, Raleigh, NC

June 18, 1940:  E.B. Bain Water Treatment Plant dedicated. “Back in 1938, Raleigh[, North Carolina]  was faced with a choice: reduce the growing demand for water by cutting off the supply to unincorporated areas; do nothing until demand outstripped supply; or build a new plant with federal Public Works Administration funding. City leaders looked the future in the eye and saw growth and need. They built.

The PWA provided 45 percent and city bond money the rest of the $700,000 price tag for the plant and improvements to the water system.  Work started in mid-1939. By the next spring, the plant on Walnut Creek was operational. It was dedicated June 18, 1940, and was named after Ernest Battle Bain, the city’s longtime water superintendent.  It had water filtering and pumping operations under one roof, and four electric pumps plus a gas-powered one in reserve. And although it was rated at 8 million gallons a day, it could put out up to 10 million. It was built to allow expansion up to 20 million gallons a day, according to information unearthed by David Black, now an architectural intern, who researched its history for the historic designation application.

A story in The Raleigh Times the day it was dedicated declared “City’s Water Plant is Engineering Feat,” because it was built on the same site as the old one. The new one had to be built and the old one taken out simultaneously, without interrupting water supply.”

A series of seven excellent videos explains the history of water development for Raleigh, North Carolina.

June 4, 1865: St. Louis Artesian Well; 1918: Death of John R. Bartlett

June 4, 1865:  New York Times headline–The Artesian Well in St. Louis. “Most of the residents of St. Louis know where the artesian well is situated — on O’Fallon, above Lewis-street — and have drank of its waters. This well was commenced in the spring of 1849, by Messrs. Belcher & Brothers, for the purpose of procuring water for the use of the refinery. It has a salty taste, and a strong odor of sulfur. In fact, so strong is the sulfur, that the white paint on the building near it has been turned blue. It is highly praised for its remedial virtues, and is visited daily by hundreds to drink of its water. The workmen in the refinery say that it is much pleasanter than ice water, and they feel better after drinking it.”

Map showing Bartlett Scheme to export Passaic River Water to New York City

June 4, 1918:  Death of John R. Bartlett, water schemer. The East Jersey Water Company was formed on August 1, 1889 for the stated purpose of supplying Newark, New Jersey with a safe water supply. All of the men who were shareholders of the new company were identified with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. However, the company’s vision extended far beyond a water supply for Newark.

The company began as a confidential syndicate composed of businessmen who were interested in executing grand plans for water supply in northern New Jersey and New York City. The early years of planning included Delos E. Culver who secured a franchise to construct an aqueduct in Hudson County, New Jersey. He had dreams of supplying not only Jersey City but also using the rich water resources of the Passaic River to supply the lower part of Manhattan and Brooklyn. He teamed up with John R. Bartlett who has been described as “aggressive and wealthy.” Bartlett immediately attacked the problem of obtaining water rights on the Passaic River by securing an option on all the stock of the SUM. It was widely believed that SUM had riparian rights to all the water in the Passaic River that went over the Great Falls, and tying up their water rights was crucial to any water supply scheme.

Bartlett also secured the rights to a tunnel that had been partial excavated under the Hudson connecting Hoboken with Manhattan and began excavating the tunnel further. All of this activity was explained in a slick report that Bartlett and his associates prepared and which Bartlett pitched in a series of public meetings and speeches designed to build support for his plan to supply New York City from the waters of the Passaic River. There were many news reports of his presentations around the New Jersey metropolitan areas. One such presentation was entitled, “The Plans for Furnishing an Abundant Supply of Water to the City of New York from a Source Independent of the Croton Watershed.” Of course, Bartlett stated in his talk that there was plenty of water to serve all of the New Jersey cities as well as New York City.

In his talks, Bartlett used the glitzy book that contained maps and descriptions of the water supply scheme along with testimonials, supporting statements and favorable opinions from notables of the day. One such notable was Garret A. Hobart who appeared twice in the book. First, he signed a statement that essentially verified that as President of the Acquackanonk Water Company, Bartlett’s claims of access to the water rights necessary to fulfill his scheme were correct as far as Hobart could determine. Second, Hobart included an opinion in the book that supported Bartlett’s view that the SUM controlled all of the water rights for the Passaic River at Great Falls, and that Bartlett needed the consent of SUM in order to exercise those water rights, which he had already accomplished by obtaining an option on all of the SUM stock. Hobart also opined that Bartlett could obtain lands and rights of way by condemnation and eminent domain. Finally, Hobart agreed that all of the cities that were proposed as customers for the water scheme could contract with a private water company to obtain their supplies of water. Hobart’s opinions were just a few of the dozens in the book authored by Bartlett. It was truly an astonishing document designed to steamroll over any objections or concerns.

However, despite Bartlett’s enormous efforts, one major barrier could not be overcome. Many leaders of the day believed that it would be illegal to export waters of the State of New Jersey to New York State for the profit of a private company. Bartlett lost interest in the water exporting scheme when it became clear that he could not overcome this barrier.

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

June 3, 1844: Birth of Garret A. Hobart

Garret A. Hobart

June 3, 1844:  Birth of Garret A. Hobart. “Garret Augustus Hobart (June 3, 1844 – November 21, 1899) was the 24th Vice President of the United States (1897–1899), serving under President William McKinley…. As vice president, Hobart proved a popular figure in Washington and was a close adviser to McKinley.”

While much is known about Hobart’s role as vice president, his role in the formation of private water companies and his support of these companies through legislation is less well known. Hobart was elected to the New Jersey Assembly and Senate during the early part of his career. During the 1870s and 1880s there was a lot of legislative activity that appeared to be for the benefit of private water companies.

In 1881, one bill that was introduced by Garret A. Hobart, then a state senator, was designed to give private water companies the power to acquire and distribute water resources independent of municipal or state control.  While not explicitly stated, the bill purportedly had a single intention of giving one company, the Passaic Water Company, more power to access water supplies to prevent water shortages at the factories of Paterson which were forced to idle production in the summer season.

The bill was not successful, (New York Times, March 22, 1881) which was undoubtedly due in part to the widespread suspicion that the bill would grant powers to companies to export New Jersey water supplies to New York.  “[New York speculators] have been attracted by the magnificence and extent of New Jersey’s water-shed, and by the sweetness and purity of its waters.  Last year’s scheme was said to be intended to enable the tapping of New Jersey’s hills for the New York supply.”(New York Times, March 7, 1881)

Hobart was a resident of Paterson, New Jersey for most of his life. In 1885, Garret A. Hobart joined the Board of the Passaic Water Company and two years later was elected President of the Company.  Hobart was described in one source as representing a syndicate of New York capitalists. (Nelson and Shriner 1920) The company had been supplying Paterson and the surrounding area since 1857.

The East Jersey Water Company was formed on August 1, 1889 for the stated purpose of supplying Newark, New Jersey with a safe water supply.  All of the men who were shareholders of the new company (including Hobart) were identified with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. (New York Times, August 2, 1889) However, the company’s vision extended far beyond a water supply for Newark. The company began as a confidential syndicate composed of businessmen who were interested in executing grand plans for water supply in northern New Jersey and New York City. (Colby and Peck 1900) Nothing came of these grand plans.

Hobart was also a mentor to Dr. John L. Leal of Paterson and encouraged Leal to leave city employment and work full time as the sanitary advisor to several private water companies.(McGuire 2013)

“Hobart died on November 21, 1899 of heart disease at age 55; his place on the Republican ticket in 1900 was taken by New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt.”

References:

Colby, Frank M. and Harry T. Peck eds. The International Year Book—A Compendium of the World’s Progress During the Year 1899. n.p.:Dodd, Mead and Co., 1900.

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

Nelson, William and Charles A. Shriner. History of Paterson and Its Environs. Vol. 2, New York:Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1920.

New York Times. “Jersey’s Water Supplies—Senator Hobart’s Bill and Its Effect.” March 7, 1881.

New York Times. “New Jersey’s Law Makers—Mr. Hobart’s Water Bill Killed.” March 22, 1881.

New York Times. “To Give Newark Water.” August 2, 1889.

May 21, 1921: Violence Mars Operations of Owens Valley Aqueduct

May 21, 1921:  Violence Mars Operations of Owens Valley Aqueduct. “On May 21, 1924, the first violence of the dispute erupted.  Forty men dynamited the Lone Pine aqueduct spillway gate.  No arrests were made.  Eventually, the two sides were entirely stalemated.

The City believed the wholesale purchase of the district was unnecessary to meet its water needs.  Instead, on October 14th, the City proposed a plan that would leave 30,000 acres in the Bishop area free of City purchases.  The City also offered to help promote the construction of a state highway to the area, thereby creating a local tourist industry.

The Wattersons and the directors of the Owens Valley Irrigation District rejected the proposal, insisting on outright farm purchase and full compensation for all the townspeople.

On November 16, 1924 Mark Watterson led 60 to 100 people to occupy the Alabama Gates, closing the aqueduct by opening the emergency spillway.  Renewed negotiation ended the occupation.

Finally, the conflict became completely centered on the issues of farm purchases and reparations to the townspeople.  Attacks on the aqueduct began again in April 1926 and by July 1927 there had been 10 instances of dynamiting.

Los Angeles Owens Valley Aqueduct

The controversy was at its height when suddenly valley resistance was undermined.  The Wattersons closed the doors of all branches of the Inyo County Bank.  The Wattersons were not only bankrupt, later they were tried and convicted of thirty-six counts of embezzlement.

In the face of the collapse of both resistance and the Owens Valley economy, the City sponsored a series of repair and maintenance programs for aqueduct facilities that stimulated local employment.  The City of Los Angeles also continued to purchase private land holdings and their water rights to meet the increasing demands.”

May 17, 1839: Birth of John R. Bartlett, New York City Water Schemer

Map showing Bartlett Scheme to export Passaic River Water to New York City

May 17, 1839:  Birth of John R. Bartlett, water schemer. The East Jersey Water Company was formed on August 1, 1889 for the stated purpose of supplying Newark, New Jersey with a safe water supply.  All of the men who were shareholders of the new company were identified with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. However, the company’s vision extended far beyond a water supply for Newark.

The company began as a confidential syndicate composed of businessmen who were interested in executing grand plans for water supply in northern New Jersey and New York City. The early years of planning included Delos E. Culver who secured a franchise to construct an aqueduct in Hudson County, New Jersey.  He had dreams of supplying not only Jersey City but also using the rich water resources of the Passaic River to supply the lower part of Manhattan and Brooklyn.  He teamed up with John R. Bartlett who has been described as “aggressive and wealthy.”  Bartlett immediately attacked the problem of obtaining water rights on the Passaic River by securing an option on all the stock of the SUM.  It was widely believed that SUM had riparian rights to all the water in the Passaic River that went over the Great Falls, and tying up their water rights was crucial to any water supply scheme.

Bartlett also secured the rights to a tunnel that had been partial excavated under the Hudson connecting Hoboken with Manhattan and began excavating the tunnel further.  All of this activity was explained in a slick report that Bartlett and his associates prepared and which Bartlett pitched in a series of public meetings and speeches designed to build support for his plan to supply New York City from the waters of the Passaic River.  There were many news reports of his presentations around the New Jersey metropolitan areas.  One such presentation was entitled, “The Plans for Furnishing an Abundant Supply of Water to the City of New York from a Source Independent of the Croton Watershed.” Of course, Bartlett stated in his talk that there was plenty of water to serve all of the New Jersey cities as well as New York City.

In his talks, Bartlett used the glitzy book that contained maps and descriptions of the water supply scheme along with testimonials, supporting statements and favorable opinions from notables of the day.  One such notable was Garret A. Hobart who appeared twice in the book.  First, he signed a statement that essentially verified that as President of the Acquackanonk Water Company, Bartlett’s claims of access to the water rights necessary to fulfill his scheme were correct as far as Hobart could determine.  Second, Hobart included an opinion in the book that supported Bartlett’s view that the SUM controlled all of the water rights for the Passaic River at Great Falls, and that Bartlett needed the consent of SUM in order to exercise those water rights, which he had already accomplished by obtaining an option on all of the SUM stock.  Hobart also opined that Bartlett could obtain lands and rights of way by condemnation and eminent domain.  Finally, Hobart agreed that all of the cities that were proposed as customers for the water scheme could contract with a private water company to obtain their supplies of water.

Hobart’s opinions were just a few of the dozens in the book authored by Bartlett.  It was truly an astonishing document designed to steamroll over any objections or concerns.

However, despite Bartlett’s enormous efforts, one major barrier could not be overcome.  Many leaders of the day believed that it would be illegal to export waters of the State of New Jersey to New York State for the profit of a private company. Bartlett lost interest in the water exporting scheme when it became clear that he could not overcome this barrier.

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