Tag Archives: water supply

#TDIWH—February 13, 1913: Cleveland Sewage Treatment

0213 Cleveland Sewage studiesFebruary 13, 1913: Engineering News article. Sewage Disposal Investigations at Cleveland. By R. Winthrop Pratt. “SYNOPSIS-Preparatory to the design of sewage-treatment works for Cleveland, Ohio, a series of tests is being made of various methods of treating the sewage. The causes leading up to the decision to treat the sewage, and to make the tests before building the proposed works are outlined and then the testing station is described. The station includes grit chambers, screens and tanks for preliminary treatment, rapid filters or scrubbers, sprinkling filter, auxiliary settling tanks, and a disinfection plant for final treatment; tanks for dilution studies; sludge digestion tanks and sludge-drying beds, and an office and laboratory….

On July 25, 1905, the city appointed a commission of experts, consisting of Rudolph Hering, George H. Benzenberg and Desmond FitzGerald to study the general question of improved water-supply and sewerage for the city. This commission, about six months later, submitted a report in which was recommended:

(1) The extension of the water-works tunnel to a point about four miles from the shore.

(2) The construction of an intercepting sewer system to collect the sewage from the entire city and discharge the same into Lake Erie, at a point about 10 miles east of the Cuyahoga River. This intercepting sewer was to be designed to carry twice the dry-weather flow from one million people, on the basis of 200 gal. per capita, or a total of 400 gal. per capita per day. This plan involved several overflows into the lake and river to take care of the discharge in excess of the above amount.

(3) The construction of a river flushing tunnel and pumping equipment for the purpose of pumping clean lake water into the river above all local pollution, was recommended by two members of the commission.”

Reference: Engineering News 1913. 69:7(February 13, 1913): 287.

#TDIWH—February 12, 1914: Detroit Sewer Gas Explosion and Front Royal Water Supply

0212 Flying Manhole CoversFebruary 12, 1914: Municipal Journal article. Damaging Sewer Gas Explosion. “Detroit. Mich.-An explosion of gas in the 18th street sewer has sent manhole covers flying skyward, torn up pavements, shattered windows, and wrecked outbuildings in the western part of the city. The district affected covered a dozen or more blocks. No one was seriously injured, but there were scores of narrow escapes from death as the heavy pieces of iron and paving blocks fell back to the ground. Damage to pavements is estimated at $25,000, while the loss to private property probably will exceed that amount.”

0212 Flying Manhole Covers2February 12, 1914: Municipal Journal article. State Board Commends Water System. Front Royal, Va.-Officers of the State Board of Health who have just made an inspection of the new water supply of Front Royal, expressed high commendation of the system in a statement recently issued. The valley town, they declare, now has one of the best water supplies of the state and can guarantee to all visitors absolute freedom from water borne diseases. Front Royal has proceeded to install its new water supply with very creditable foresight. The town is almost ideally situated for good health and now is in a pos1t10n to protect its water beyond possible contamination. The system just installed includes a coagulation basin, gravity mechanical filters, storage basins for the filtered water, and as an extra precaution, apparatus for sterilizing the water before it is turned into the mains. The work is of concrete with the most modern and up-to-date appliances and the total cost, $17,000 was borne by the town without a bond issue. Since the first of the year the people have been getting a supply of clear, sparkling and pure water of the highest quality. The capacity of the plant is 1,000,000 gallons per day, or more than twice as much as the town now uses.

Reference: Municipal Journal 1914. 36:7(February 12, 1914): 213.

#TDIWH—January 24, 1876: Hemlock Lake Water Supply; 1972: Vincent B. Nesfield Dies; 1800: Birth of Edwin Chadwick

Hemlock Lake

Hemlock Lake

January 24, 1876: Glory! Hemlock Water at Last! “So proclaimed the [Rochester, NY] newspaper headline on January 24, 1876 as it announced the arrival of Hemlock Lake water into Mt. Hope Reservoir (today named Highland Reservoir). Finally, after more than three decades of political bickering and aborted construction attempts, Rochester had an abundant supply of pure wholesome drinking water. While an asset such as this may barely raise an eyebrow today, in 1876 this was truly a glorious event for the 70,000 citizens of Rochester.

In the era before the arrival of Hemlock water, wells and cisterns were the only source of drinking water. For the average resident, one well or cistern was shared by several families. Not surprisingly, the water quality of these wells was terrible in a city honeycombed with cesspools and privies. The author of an 1875 Board of Health report stated that, “We have few wells in our city that are fit for use, and in the densely populated portion they are almost without exception, absolutely unfit.” Diseases such as dysentery, cholera and typhoid were widespread. Periods of drought amplified these hardships”

0124 VB NesfieldJanuary 24, 1972: Vincent B. Nesfield dies. Nesfield was the first person to use chlorine gas under pressure to disinfect drinking water. In 1903, Lieutenant Vincent B. Nesfield of the British Indian Medical Services published a remarkable paper in a British public health journal. (Nesfield 1903) In the paper, he described his search for a chemical disinfectant to purify drinking water that would be suitable for use in the field as part of a military campaign. He came up with the idea of producing chlorine gas by electrolytic cells and then compressing the gas with 6 atmospheres of pressure until it liquefied which facilitated its storage in lead-lined steel tanks that held about 20 pounds of liquid chlorine. He treated 50 gallon batches of water by submerging the gas valve of the chlorine cylinder and opening it slightly to bubble the chlorine gas into the water.

In a later paper, Nesfield stated that about 5.4 mg/L of chlorine (2 grams per 100 gallons) killed all typhoid and cholera bacteria. After a 5-minute contact time, he added sodium sulphite to the treated water to remove the excess chlorine and prevent taste problems. (Nesfield 1905) To say that he was ahead of his time is a vast understatement. It would be 7 years before liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders was widely available in the U.S. for water utilities to use as an alternative to chloride of lime.

Passing references to Nesfield’s unique treatment method can be found in some publications in the early 20th century. In a discussion of two papers on chlorination of water and sewage in 1911, Dr. L.P. Kinnicutt mentioned Nesfield’s liquid chlorine addition method and went on to describe an iodine tablet developed by Nesfield that was more portable (and undoubtedly caused more taste problems). Therefore, there was at least some early knowledge in the U.S. of the use of liquid chlorine to disinfect drinking water. There was one mention of Nesfield’s system of purification in a 1920 encyclopedia section on water supply. (Hill 1920) A note in a journal devoted to tropical medicine in 1907, described how successful chlorination was for a unit of the British colonial army marching toward Agra. (Pure Water 1907)

There was limited mention of Nesfield and his groundbreaking work on chlorine disinfection in histories of drinking water disinfection. In Race’s remarkable 1918 book on chlorination of water, he gave Nesfield credit for the first use of liquefied chlorine for the disinfection of water. (Race 1918) Baker devoted a few sentences to Nesfield’s contributions. (Baker 1981) In a later summary of the progress of drinking water disinfection in 1950, Race again gave credit for Nesfield’s unique application of chlorine technology. (Race 1950)

References:

Baker, Moses N. 1981. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver, Co.: American Water Works Association.

Hill, Henry W. 1920. “Water Supply: For Municipal, Domestic and Potable Purposes, Including Its Sources, Conservation, Purification and Distribution.” In The Encyclopedia Americana, 39–65.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1903. “A Chemical Method of Sterilizing Water Without Affecting its Potability.” Public Health. 15(7): 601–3.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1905. “A Simple Chemical Process of Sterilizing Water for Drinking Purposes for Use in the Field and at Home.” The Journal of Preventive Medicine. 8: 623-32.

“Pure Water.” 1907. Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 10(January 15): 30.

Race, Joseph. 1918. Chlorination of Water. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.

Race, Joseph. 1950. “Forty Years of Chlorination: 1910–1949.” Journal Institution of Water Engineers. 4: 479–505.

Edwin Chadwick

Edwin Chadwick

January 24, 1800: Edwin Chadwick is born. Edwin Chadwick was an English social reformer who was noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary conditions and public health. The appointment of the Poor Law Commission in 1834 which included Edwin Chadwick is widely believed to be the beginning of the sanitary movement in England. Through Chadwick’s work and influence, more sophisticated health statistics were collected which revealed that public health problems were increasing at a rapid rate. Chadwick imposed his “sanitary idea” which focused on disease prevention. A survey published by the Poor Law Commission in 1842 detailed the horrific working and living conditions in England at the time. The report linked epidemic disease, especially related to fever diseases (typhoid, typhus and cholera) to filthy environmental conditions. Privy vaults, shallow urban wells and piles of garbage and animal excrement in the streets were all related to the increases in disease.

“‘The great preventatives,’” he wrote, “‘drainage, street and house cleansing by means of supplies of water and improved sewerage, and especially the introduction of cheaper and more efficient modes of removing all noxious reuse from the towns, are operations for which aid must be sought from the science of the Civil Engineer, not from the physician, who has done his work when he has pointed out the disease that results from the neglect of proper administrative measures, and has alleviated the sufferings of the victims.’” (Rosen 1993)

Of course, the best way to identify and locate these health threats was to determine where the greatest odors of putrefaction were located and tie the solution to the problem—miasmas.

Chadwick was not ultimately successful in all he tried to do to clean up the noxious wastes in London and other concentrations of population in England. However, he did have a profound influence on a series of laws that were passed in the mid to late 1800s which began to implement some of his vision. (Rosen 1993) The formation of boards of health and the appointment of health officers under these laws provided advocates for cleaning up the filth.

It is a common misconception among chroniclers of the time period, 1850 to 1900, that the act of installing sewers, in and of itself, was an effective public health protection strategy. Edwin Chadwick was one of the major proponents of this misconception. In the 1840s he became one of the leaders of the European Sanitary Movement. In his famous report published in 1842, Chadwick promoted four themes:

  • Relationship of unsanitary living conditions and disease (based on the miasma theory)
  • Economic effects of poor living conditions
  • Social effects of poor living conditions (e.g., drunkenness, immorality, disease)
  • Need for new administrative systems to effect changes (Halliday 2001)

Chadwick had a vision of vast sewer systems collecting human waste and transporting it out to rural areas where it would be put to beneficial use as fertilizer for farms. Water supply would be provided to cities through a piped water system from protected sources that were not affected by any locale’s sewage. Unfortunately, only one out of three parts of Chadwick’s vision were implemented in London and elsewhere. Sewers were built but the crucial sanitary disposal of human waste on farmland was not. Sewage was discharged into rivers and lakes after which time no surface supplied drinking water was safe.

References:

Halliday, Stephen. 2001. The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. London, U.K.: History Press.

Rosen, George. 1993. A History of Public Health. Expanded Edition, Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University.

#TDIWH—January 23, 1913: Night soil Incinerator and NYC Death Rate

January 23, 1913: Two articles in Engineering News.

0123 Nightsoil Incinerator1“Night Soil Incinerating Furnace at a Contractor’s Camp.” By Arthur W. Tidd, “The new 500-million-gallons-daily Catskill water-system for New York City, now being built by the Board of Water Supply, necessitates that construction work shall be carried on from the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains to New York City, a distance of approximately 100 miles. Throughout the whole length of the line a sanitary control is exercised, under the supervision of sanitary experts employed by the Board of Water Supply, over the housing and living of the laborers employed on the work and the disposal of all wastes.

Clauses are inserted in the specifications of each contract placing upon the contractor the duty of carrying out the provisions required for proper sanitation and specifying in many cases just what these provisions shall be. One of these is the provision that buildings for the sanitary necessities of all persons employed on the work shall be provided, and that all excreta shall be incinerated daily….

0123 Nightsoil Incinerator2For the camp the four corners of the incinerator house are partitioned off into independent closets, entered only from the outside, two for the men having six seats each, two for the women having two seats each. The galvanized pans are used here also, being removed from the back of the closets on the inside of the building as indicated in cross-section of the building shown in Fig. 2.” (emphasis added)

Commentary: An early commitment by New York City to protect the water supply for the City.

“A Low Record Death Rate for New York City.” “A total of 73,008 deaths in a single city in one year seems appalling until it is known that the city was New York, with a population sufficiently above five million to bring the rate per 1000 down to the remarkably low figure of 14.11. There are possibilities, of course, that the population estimate is too high or that the death registration was incomplete, but there seems to be reasonable basis for confidence in both. This confidence is increased when it is noted that the total number of deaths in 1912 was 2418 less than in 1911, and much less than the average for the ten years 1902-11; that there were heavy reductions over the average for 1902-11, in all the communicable diseases, in mortality from diarrheal diseases under five years of age, and in infant mortality; and that in the large non-communicable class the only increases in 1912 were in deaths from cancer, homicide and organic heart disease–the latter being offset by a decline in deaths from apoplexy and diseases of the arteries.

It is particularly gratifying to note that the typhoid fever death rate for 1912 was 34% less than the average for the previous decade and that the infant-mortality rate for the year was only 105 per 1000 reported births, the lowest ever recorded.”

Commentary: Improvement in the sanitary quality of the New York City water supply, improvement in the milk supply and better medical care account for much of the progress noted. NYC still had a long way to go. The infant mortality rate was 10% of live births which would be unconscionable today.

Reference: Engineering News. 1913. 69:4(January 23, 1913): 164, 175.

#TDIWH—January 20, 1916: Lowell, Mass. Filtration Plant and Watertown, NY Water Supply

0120 Lowell Filter PlantJanuary 20, 1916:  Municipal Journal article–New Filtration Plant Completed. “Lowell, Mass.-The city’s new $225,000 filtration plant is now in operation. The building is of concrete, with red tile roof, and is artistic in design. The filtration or purification plant is located on the north side of the boulevard, immediately opposite the lower pumping station. It consists of six coke prefilters, 10 feet in depth and two-fifths of an acre in total area; a settling basin, divided into two units, with a total capacity of 500,000 gallons; six sand filters, with a total area of one acre; and a filtered water reservoir of 1,000,000 gallons capacity. All of the operations involved are controlled in the building shown in the accompanying illustration, where are contained the main valves and recording apparatus. At the rate of 75 million gallons per acre per day through the prefilters. and a 10 million gallon rate through the sand filters the areas provided have a capacity of a 10-million gallon daily output. Allowing for cleaning and for the possible desirability of a lower rate through the coke, the plant is believed to be ample for an average daily supply of 7,500,000 to 8,500,000 gallons, or-if the past growth of the population holds in the future-sufficient for the needs of the city until 1935.”

0726 Allen HazenJanuary 20, 1916:  Municipal Journal article–Engineers’ Report on Water Supplies. “Watertown, N. Y.-The report of Hazen, Whipple & Fuller, the consulting engineers, who for several months past have been investigating available sources from which Watertown might secure its water supply has been presented to city officials. The report is an exhaustive one and is supplemented by maps of the available areas prepared under the direction of the engineers. Four possible sources aside from the one now used are considered in the report, and, while no recommendations are made, statistics of the cost of the works and cost of maintenance all of which are embodied in the report, show that the possible supply from the north branch of Sandy Creek is the most satisfactory and least expensive. The report shows that the proposed Pine Plains source would not furnish a sufficient supply of water from wells alone. While the city at the present time consumes approximately 6,000.000 gallons of water a day, the commissioners decided before the survey started that no supply would he considered satisfactory unless it would furnish at least 12.000,000 gallons per day. This would assure a supply that could be used without addition for many years to come.”

Reference: “Engineers’ Report on Water Supplies.” 1916. Municipal Journal. 40:3(January 20, 1916): 82-3.

#TDIWH—January 15, 2009: PFOA Provisional Health Advisory; 1917: Death of William J. Magie

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

January 15, 2009: On January 15, 2009, the USEPA set a provisional health advisory level for PFOA of 0.4 parts per billion in drinking water. “Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8 and perfluorooctanoate, is a synthetic, stable perfluorinated carboxylic acid and fluorosurfactant. One industrial application is as a surfactant in the emulsion polymerization of fluoropolymers. It has been used in the manufacture of such prominent consumer goods as Teflon and Gore-Tex. PFOA has been manufactured since the 1940s in industrial quantities. It is also formed by the degradation of precursors such as some fluorotelomers.

PFOA persists indefinitely in the environment. It is a toxicant and carcinogen in animals. PFOA has been detected in the blood of more than 98% of the general US population in the low and sub-parts per billion range, and levels are higher in chemical plant employees and surrounding subpopulations. Exposure has been associated with increased cholesterol and uric acid levels, and recently higher serum levels of PFOA were found to be associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease in the general United States population, consistent with earlier animal studies. ‘This association was independent of confounders such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, and serum cholesterol level.’”

0115 Boonton Hypochlorite houseJanuary 15, 1917: Death of William J. Magie. In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment (except for detention and sedimentation fostered by Boonton Reservoir) was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. William J. Magie was selected by Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens to hear the second part of the case in which the use of chlorine for disinfection was a contentious issue. One might assume that someone relatively junior might be appointed as the Special Master to hear the highly technical and excruciatingly long arguments from both sides of the case. Not so. William Jay Magie was one of the most revered judges of this time period. He took the role of Special Master in 1908 after completing 8 years as Chancellor of the Court of Chancery. Prior to that, he was a member of the New Jersey Senate (1876-1878), Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court (1880-1897) and Chief Justice of the same court from 1897 to 1900. (Marquis 1913)

“As a trial judge his cases were handled with notable success, as he had ample experience in trying causes before juries and a just appreciation of the worth of human testimony…” (Keasbey 1912) Judge Magie would need all of his powers of appreciation of human testimony in the second trial, which boiled down to which of the expert witnesses could be believed when both sides marshaled some of the most eminent doctors, scientists and engineers in the land.

Judge Magie was born on December 9, 1832 in Elizabeth, New Jersey and lived his life in that town. He graduated from Princeton College in 1852 and studied law under an attorney in Elizabeth. He was admitted to the bar of New Jersey in 1856. At the time of the second trial in 1909 he was 77 years old and near the end of his distinguished career.

On May 9, 1910, William J. Magie submitted his Special Master Report. One of Magie’s findings was of critical importance to the defendants because he laid to rest the concern that chlorine was a poison that would harm members of the public who consumed the water.

“Upon the proofs before me, I also find that the solution described leaves no deleterious substance in the water. It does produce a slight increase of hardness, but the increase is so slight as in my judgment to be negligible.” (Magie, In Chancery of New Jersey, 1910)

The Special Master Report then delivered the finding that defendants had been waiting for:

“I do therefore find and report that this device is capable of rendering the water delivered to Jersey City, pure and wholesome, for the purposes for which it is intended, and is effective in removing from the water those dangerous germs which were deemed by the decree to possibly exist therein at certain times.” (emphasis added) (Magie, In Chancery of New Jersey, 1910)

Magie’s finding summarized in this one sentence approved the use of chlorine for drinking water. After this ruling, the use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection exploded across the U.S. (McGuire 2013)

In a filing after Magie’s final decree, compensation for Judge Magie was noted as $18,000 for the entire second trial with its 38 days of testimony over 14 months, dozens of briefs and hundreds of exhibits. It must have been the hardest $18,000 he ever earned.

References:

  • Keasbey, E.Q. (1912). The Courts and Lawyers of New Jersey, 1661-1912. Vol. 3, New York:Lewis Historical Publishing Co.
  • Magie, William J. (1910). In Chancery of New Jersey: Between the Mayor and Aldermen of Jersey City, Complainant, and the Jersey City Water Supply Co., Defendant. Report for Hon. W.J. Magie, special master on cost of sewers, etc., and on efficiency of sterilization plant at Boonton, Press Chronicle Co., Jersey City, New Jersey, (Case Number 27/475-Z-45-314), 1-15.
  • Marquis, Albert N. (1913). Who’s Who in America. 7, Chicago:A.N. Marquis.
  • McGuire, Michael J. (2013). The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

#TDIWH—January 13, 1916: Los Angeles Water Supply Purity

0113 LA Aqueduct purity 1916January 13, 1916: Municipal Journal editorial–Purity of Los Angeles Water Supply. “That the construction of the new Los Angeles aqueduct and the reservoirs forming a part of the aqueduct system of water supply for that city has been conducted and terminated in a most creditable way is the opinion of the majority of engineers who are familiar with the work. Some mistakes were made, but their number and importance were small when we consider the magnitude of the work and the unusual conditions to be met.

That the fundamental plan of the supply was wrong, and the water which had been brought more than 250 miles at such enormous cost was not fit to drink, was the startling claim made a few months ago. Few who were well informed took this at all seriously, but the matter was pressed even to the courts, and the satisfactoriness of the supply was demonstrated. Whatever may have been the real inspiration of this attack, it is fortunate for the city and for those responsible for the work that the discussion was promptly carried to a finish and, we hope, has fully satisfied all citizens except the few whom nothing could convince.”

Commentary: Given the controversy surrounding the development of the Los Angeles water supply, it is not surprising that some of the critics would attack the safety of the source. Critics were angry then and a century later many critics are still furious with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for developing the Owens Valley water supply.

0113 Watershed2 LA Aqueduct purity 1916January 13, 1916: Related Article in the Municipal Journal—Sanitary Features of Los Angeles Aqueduct. “Probably few cities of Europe or our own country are so favorably situated to ensure the necessary sanitary conditions and effect the delivery of a pure and potable domestic water supply without artificial treatment, as is the city of Los Angeles, Cal., in the possession of the Los Angeles aqueduct. A sparsely inhabited region as a drainage area, large reservoirs to provide storage and sterilization [sic], and the carrying of the water a long distance through concrete conduits and steel pipe lines, often under heavy pressure, with aeration by falls aggregating 1,600 feet in height-each provides a subject for interesting discussion.

Preceding articles in this journal have discussed the plans of construction of the works, so that it will be necessary here only to state that the streams flowing down the eastern face of the Sierra over a lineal distance of 120 miles are collected and carried southward across the Mojave desert and through the crest of the Coast range to the rim of the San Fernando valley, a distance of 233 miles. Here the aqueduct terminates and the city trunk line, a system complete in itself excepting for its source of supply, carries the water across the San Fernando valley, through the crest of the Santa Monica range, down their southeastern flank and into the city, a distance of 25 miles.

The principal tributary of the aqueduct is the Owens river, which has its rise in the heart of the Sierra Nevada [range] near Yosemite Park at an elevation of 11,000 feet. Within its upper drainage of 444 square miles, comprising the area of Long valley, the district is uninhabited excepting in the summer season by a few campers, and stockmen who seek the valley for its excellent pasturage.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1916. 40:2(January 13, 1916): 35-38, 45.