Tag Archives: water treatment

March 1, 1993: Milwaukee Crypto Outbreak; 1930: Death of Clemens Herschel

Depiction of Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts excystation in the gut

March 1, 1993:  Outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee, WI. From this date until April 28 is generally regarded as the duration of the outbreak of the disease.  People in the area receiving the water began getting sick during this period and soon emergency rooms and doctors’ offices were overtaxed.  It has been estimated that over 400,000 people were sickened and over 100 people died.

“To assess the total medical costs and productivity losses associated with the 1993 waterborne outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, including the average cost per person with mild, moderate, and severe illness, we conducted a retrospective cost-of-illness analysis using data from 11 hospitals in the greater Milwaukee area and epidemiologic data collected during the outbreak. The total cost of outbreak-associated illness was $96.2 million: $31.7 million in medical costs and $64.6 million in productivity losses. The average total costs for persons with mild, moderate, and severe illness were $116, $475, and $7,808, respectively. The potentially high cost of waterborne disease outbreaks should be considered in economic decisions regarding the safety of public drinking water supplies.”

Reference:  Corso, P.S. et al. 2003. “Cost of Illness in the 1993 Waterborne Cryptosporidium Outbreak, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. 9:4.

Commentary:  Based on the evidence I have seen, the Howard Avenue Water Purification Plant lost control of its particle removal process, which caused high concentrations of viable Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts to enter the distribution system. The only disinfectant that the water utility was using at that time was free chlorine, which is ineffective for killing this pathogen. Since the outbreak, the water treatment system in Milwaukee has been significantly upgraded. http://bit.ly/YPPGdK

March 1, 1930:  Clemens Herschel dies. “Clemens Herschel (March 23, 1842 – March 1, 1930) was an American hydraulic engineer. His career extended from about 1860 to 1930, and he is best known for developing the Venturi meter, which was the first large-scale, accurate device for measuring water flow.

Clemens was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and spent most of his life practicing his profession in New York and New Jersey. He attended Harvard University, where he received his bachelor of science degree in 1860 from the Lawrence Scientific School. After Harvard, he completed post-graduate studies in France and Germany.

The first part of Herschel’s career was devoted to bridge design, including the design of cast-iron bridges. For a time, he was employed on the sewerage system of Boston. Herschel was influenced by James B. Francis, who was the agent and engineer of the Proprietors of Locks and Canals on the Merrimack River at Lowell, Massachusetts, to switch his career path to hydraulic engineering. About 1880, he started working for the Holyoke Water Power Company in Massachusetts. He remained with the company until 1889. While he was there, Herschel designed the Holyoke testing flume, which has been said to mark the beginning of the scientific design of water-power wheels. Herschel first tested his Venturi meter concept in 1886 while working for the company. The original purpose of the Venturi meter was to measure the amount of water used by the individual water mills in the Holyoke area.

Water supply development in northern New Jersey was an active area of investment in the late 19th century. In 1889, Herschel was hired as the manager and superintendent of the East Jersey Water Company, where he worked until 1900. He was responsible for the development of the Pequannock River water supply for Newark. He also installed two of his largest Venturi meters at Little Falls, New Jersey, on the main stem of the Rockaway River to serve Paterson, Clifton and Jersey City.

After 1900 and lasting until the end of his life, Herschel was a consulting hydraulic engineer with offices in New York City. He worked on some of the major water development projects in the world. He played a major part in the construction of the hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, which was the first large-scale electric power plant. He was appointed to an expert committee that reviewed the plans for the first water tunnel that would deliver water from the Catskill reservoirs to New York City.

Herschel was one of the first five men inducted into the American Water Works Association Water Industry Hall of Fame. He was also made an honorary member of that organization. Herschel was awarded the Elliott Cresson medal in 1889 by the Franklin Institute for his development of the Venturi water meter.

In 1888, Herschel was presented with the Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Rowland Prize is awarded to an author whose paper describes in detail accomplished works of construction or which are valuable contributions to construction management and construction engineering. He was made an Honorary Member of ASCE in 1922.

The Clemens Herschel Prize was established at Harvard University in 1929. The award is given to meritorious students in practical hydraulics. Each year, the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section presents the Clemens Herschel Award to authors ‘…who have published papers that have been useful, commendable, and worthy of grateful acknowledgment.’”

Commentary:  I am particularly pleased with this biography, which I wrote for Wikipedia. On December 23, 2012, Wikipedia chose the Clemens Herschel biography to feature on their main page in the Did You Know section.

 

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#TDIWH-January 27, 1907: Colorado River Levee Repaired-End of Salton Sea Influent Supply; 1916: Typhoid in Louisiana

Railroad trestles built across the breach; used to dump rock into the breach

January 27, 1907:  Colorado River Levee Repaired. In late 1904, water from the Colorado River started leaking from irrigation ditches built for the Imperial Valley into what would become the Salton Sea. After a flood on the Colorado River, the sea filled and it would take two years of effort with many missteps to close the breach and control withdrawals from the River. This is an extract from a description of how that levee breach was fixed. “Ole Nordland, Editor of the Indio Daily News for many years, described the effort of the Southern Pacific [railroad] in these words: ‘The gargantuan effort of stemming the flood tied up a network of 1,200 miles of main [railroad] lines for three weeks while the [Southern Pacific Company] fought to bring the river under control. The work started the very day of the exchange of telegrams, December 20, 1906. Dispatchers sidetracked crack passenger trains to let rock trains through while amazed passengers looked on. Surplus engines stood by to aid in the massive haul of rock and gravel. The rock trains came from as far away as 480 miles to hurtle 2,057 carloads of rock, 221 carloads of gravel, and 203 carloads of clay into the break in 15 days. The loads were dumped from two trestles built across the river break and were literally dumped faster than the water could wash them away. The Colorado River put up a stubborn fight. Three times it ripped away the trestle piles. Finally, on January 27, 1907, the breach was closed and the valley’s farms and cities were saved. The Colorado River was returned to its former path but it left in its wake today’s Salton Sea.’”

Dumping rock to heal breach in Colorado River levee

Reference:  Laflin, P., 1995. The Salton Sea: California’s overlooked treasure. The Periscope, Coachella Valley Historical Society, Indio, California. 61 pp. (http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/salton/PeriscopeSaltonSeaCh5-6.html#Chapter6 Accessed October 11, 2014).

January 27, 1916:  Municipal Journal article. Water Origin of Typhoid Epidemic. “Lake Charles, La.-Dr. Oscar Dowling, president of the State Board of Health, has been investigating the typhoid epidemic situation here, and has sent Louis Alberta, inspector of the board, to examine the markets, slaughter pens, and all places handling fresh meats, and J. H. O’Neil, sanitary engineer, to make a further survey of the water supply. Up to date there have been reported 153 cases of typhoid fever in Lake Charles and 15 in West Lake, which is practically a suburb, making a total of 168. There are sick at present in both places 90. There have been 12 deaths, 3 of these in West Lake. Investigation has been made and the case history taken of 138 patients. ‘Evidence as to the cause of the infection points to the water,’ says Dr. Dowling. ‘During September and October a number of specimens from the city supply were examined in our laboratories. After repeated analyses, permits to the railroads to use the city water were issued. The city supply is obtained from artesian wells, but in case of fire water from the river is added. This can be made safe by proper treatment and the equipment necessary was installed by the company after condemnation of the water by our board. From lack of supervision the treatment process evidently was not properly carried out.’”

Commentary:  That is an understatement. Clearly, the treatment of surface water put into the system to fight a fire was not properly done and people died.

Reference:  “Water Origin of Typhoid Epidemic.” 1916. Municipal Journal. 40:4(January 27, 1916): 111.

January 12, 1933: Drought Cartoon; 1987: Cryptosporidiosis Outbreak in Georgia; 1870: Birth of Edward Bartow

January 12, 1933:  Drought Cartoon. The Los Angeles Times has published cartoons over more than 100 years that depict the many droughts that California has suffered and the reactions to them. Here is one that I think you will enjoy.

A single Cryptosporidium oocyst

January 12, 1987:  A large outbreak of cryptosporidiosis began on this day. “Between January 12 and February 7, 1987, an outbreak of gastroenteritis affected an estimated 13,000 (out of 64,900) people in Carroll County in western Georgia (including Carrollton, GA). Cryptosporidium oocysts were identified in the stools of 58 of 147 patients with gastroenteritis (39 percent) tested during the outbreak. Studies for bacterial, viral, and other parasitic pathogens failed to implicate any other agent. In a random telephone survey, 299 of 489 household members exposed to the public water supply (61 percent) reported gastrointestinal illness, as compared with 64 of 322 (20 percent) who were not exposed (relative risk, 3.1; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.4 to 3.9). The prevalence of IgG [Immunoglobulin G—an antibody isotype] to Cryptosporidium was significantly higher among exposed respondents to the survey who had become ill than among nonresident controls. Cryptosporidium oocysts were identified in samples of treated public water with use of a monoclonal-antibody test. Although the sand-filtered and chlorinated water system met all regulatory-agency quality standards, sub-optimal flocculation and filtration probably allowed the parasite to pass into the drinking-water supply. Low-level Cryptosporidium infection in cattle in the watershed and a sewage overflow were considered as possible contributors to the contamination of the surface-water supply. We conclude that current standards for the treatment of public water supplies may not prevent the contamination of drinking water by Cryptosporidium, with consequent outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis.”

Commentary:  This outbreak caused a lot of concern in the drinking water community, but it was the epidemic of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee in April six years later that drove the second phase of the enhanced surface water treatment rule.

Reference:  Hayes, E.B. et al. 1989. “Large community outbreak of cryptosporidiosis due to contamination of a filtered public water supply.” N. Engl J Med. 320:21(May 25): 1372-6.

January 12, 1870:  Edward Bartow was born. “Edward Bartow (1870–1958) was an American chemist and an expert in the field of sanitary chemistry. His career extended from 1897 to 1958 and he is best known for his work in drinking water purification and wastewater treatment. He was well known as an educator, and his many students went on to leadership positions in the fields of sanitary chemistry and engineering….

He began his career as an instructor of chemistry at Williams College about 1896. His first academic appointment was as an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas. He taught there from 1897 to 1905. While in Kansas, he worked with the U.S. Geological Survey analyzing the waters of southeastern part of the state.

His next position was as Director of the Illinois State Water Survey. He also held the title of professor of sanitary chemistry at the University of Illinois from 1905 to 1920. He led efforts to eliminate typhoid fever by developing treatment methodologies for water purification. In 1914, he began the first large-scale investigations of the new sewage treatment process called activated sludge. A bronze plaque was placed on the grounds of the Champaign-Urbana Sanitary District to commemorate the work on this process done by Bartow and his colleagues. The Illinois State Water Survey became well known for producing high quality work and the fourteen volumes of bulletins and reports published during his tenure are classics in the field of sanitary chemistry and engineering.

From 1920 until his retirement in 1940, he was professor of chemistry at the University of Iowa. He significantly enhanced the department and when he left, the number of PhD degrees awarded totaled 240 in chemistry and chemical engineering….

Bartow received many honors including an honorary D.Sc. from Williams College in 1923. Several societies honored him with life memberships. In 1971, he was inducted into the American Water Works Association Water Industry Hall of Fame.”

December 23, 1791: James Peacock’s Filter

December 23, 1791:  James Peacock, a London architect of note in his day, was granted the first British patent on a process and apparatus for water filtration (December 23, 1791, No. 1,841). In 1793. Peacock published a promotion pamphlet setting forth the need for filtration and the principles that should guide the choice, preparation and placing of filtering media, showing sketches of filters of different sizes and design. It includes a diagram showing superimposed spheres of diminishing size, illustrating a mathematical exposition of the reasons why coarse filtering material should be placed at the bottom of a filter with layers of material of regularly decreasing size above it. Peacock’s exposition brings to mind the Wheeler filter bottom designed more than a century afterwards. No such thesis had appeared before Peacock’s day and none surpassing it has appeared since….

Peacock’s Design.-The novelty of Peacock’s invention, he declared in his patent, was filtration by ascent instead of the common method of descent. This could be applied under any head, in any quantity and for public as well as private use. A further novelty, far more significant, was cleaning the filter by reverse flow, the descending water carrying with it “all foul and extraneous substances.”

Reference:  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, 67-72.

Commentary:  Even though Peacock’s filter was a failure, it marked the beginning of period of experimentation which resulted in the successful slow sand filters that are still used today.

November 28, 1837: Birth of John Wesley Hyatt.

November 28, 1837: Birth of John Wesley Hyatt. Hyatt was an inventor who developed new materials and machines that resulted in hundreds of patents. He is mostly known for his invention of a commercially viable way of producing solid, stable nitrocellulose, which he patented in the United States in 1869 as “Celluloid.” However, he was one of the early developers of commercial filtration systems in the U.S. He invented improvements to mechanical filtration systems, which are called rapid sand filters or granular media filters today. During the 1880s, mechanical filters were installed to remove particles and “organic matter.” Filtration to control microbial pathogens would come later with better bacteriological methods and the maturation of the germ theory of disease.

“John Hyatt, an inventor and manufacturer of Newark, N.J., applied for a patent February 11, 1881, on what was virtually a stack of Clark’s filters, placed in a closed tank and operated each independently of the others by means of common supply, delivery and wash pipes. His application, like Clark’s, was granted on June 21, 1881, and assigned to the Newark Filtering Co. On the same day, Hyatt obtained a patent in England.

Col. L. H. Gardner, Superintendent of the New Orleans Water Co., after making small-scale experiments on coagulation at New Orleans, was convinced that it was more efficacious than filtration for the clarification of muddy water.

Isaiah Smith Hyatt, older brother of John, while acting as sales agent for the Newark Filtering Co., was baffled in attempts to clarify Mississippi River water for a New Orleans industrial plant. Colonel Gardner suggested using a coagulant. This was a success. Isaiah Hyatt obtained on February 19, 1884, a patent on simultaneous coagulation-filtration. Although unsound in principle, it largely dominated mechanical filtration for many years….

Thus in 1880-85 did four men join in the evolution of mechanical or rapid filtration. Clark soon faded out of the picture. Gardner entered it only by suggesting to Isaiah Hyatt the use of a coagulant, and Isaiah Hyatt, still a young man, died in March 1885. John Hyatt was then alone. Already he had taken out 20 filter patents while only two were granted to his older brother. By the close of 1889, John had obtained about 50 patents. Scattered grants in the 1890’s brought his record above 60. Most notable of all these were three on washing systems, including sectional wash; several on strainers for underdrain systems; and two on aeration, primarily in connection with filtration. The Hyatt aeration patents, like those granted to Professor Albert R. Leeds a little earlier, were of little practical importance, but they marked an era in water purification during which stress was laid on the removal of organic matter.”

Reference: 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: American Water Works Association, 183-5.

November 4, 1992: Tucson Starts Delivery of CAP Supply; 2000: Restoring the Everglades

November 4, 1992:  Tucson Starts Direct Delivery of Central Arizona Project Water Supply. Corrosive water destroying pipes in a major American city preceded the events in Flint, Michigan by over two decades. On November 4, 1992, the water department for Tucson, Arizona, (Tucson Water or TW) began delivery of a new water supply: treated surface water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP)—primarily Colorado River water. Putting treated CAP water into the TW distribution system caused a corrosion problem that resulted in colored water (e.g., rusty, red, orange, yellow and brown) flowing from customer taps. Tucson’s introduction of CAP water is a story of mistakes committed at all levels of the utility and by the Tucson City Council.

Technical mistakes included not preparing the distribution system to receive a more complex surface water supply. TW was a groundwater utility that relied on about 200 wells distributed throughout the system. Recognizing their lack of experience with treating surface water, they hired treatment plant operators from other utilities to run the new $80 million leading-edge-technology treatment plant. Unfortunately, the same level of focus and preparation was not applied to the aging distribution system, which received, literally overnight, a chloraminated supply to half its customers from a single point of entry.

One of the biggest mistakes was not testing the impact of treated CAP water on corroded galvanized steel pipes. There were about 200 miles of this 2-inch substandard pipe in the system. When treated CAP water hit these pipes, the iron corrosion deposits inside the pipes were stripped away causing colored water, taste and odor problems, and damage to home plumbing, appliances and property due to flooding.

There was a rush to deliver CAP water and to hold down costs to the detriment of needed studies, which would have shown that raising the treated water pH for corrosion control was the proper approach.

Also high on the list of pre-delivery problems was a lack of political will to replace the substandard galvanized and cast iron street mains. The presence of these substandard pipes made the TW distribution system ripe for a catastrophic corrosion problem due to unsound corrosion control practices.

Delivery of CAP water was terminated on September 26, 1994, because of the inability of TW to control the colored water problem and the resulting political uproar. The $80 million treatment plant was shut down and has not been used since.

After a series of management resignations and firings over several years, Tucson hired David Modeer as the Director of TW. Modeer and his management team put the utility on the road to recovery. Along with a carefully planned technical program to select the correct corrosion treatment and deal with the taste and odor problems, an innovative public information campaign that also included a public apology for the CAP debacle, began to restore the credibility of TW. Customers were invited to actively participate in determining the future use, treatment and quality of CAP water via such methods as consumer preference research and participation in an extensive bottled water program.

After the voters defeated a proposition in 1999 that would have severely limited the ability to use CAP water in the future, TW completed an aquifer storage and recovery project in the nearby Avra Valley. The Central Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project (CAVSARP) allowed the utility to fully use its CAP allotment and serve a recovered groundwater/recharged CAP water mix that was accepted by TW customers. Tucson Water turned around a disaster into a singular success. Because of its ability to conjunctively use CAP water and groundwater, Tucson is now one of the more drought-resistant communities in the Southwest.

Commentary:  Marie Pearthree and I are writing a book about what happened in Tucson before, during and after the corrosion problem doomed their new water supply. A wealth of material has revealed previously unknown information related to TW’s problems. The result of these efforts are much-needed lessons for water utilities on how to avoid TW’s mistakes and how to successfully introduce a new water supply. As of this date in 2017, we are finishing up the research and beginning to write some of the chapters.  It is hard to predict when we will complete the book, but we will be giving papers on what we have found during our research at several venues in 2018. Watch this space for presentation times, dates and locations.

November 4, 2000: New York Times headline–House Approves Plan to Restore Everglades. “In a rare moment of solidarity, the House voted today for a $7.8 billion plan intended to restore the Florida Everglades, a project supporters call the largest environmental renewal effort ever.

The legislation now goes to President Clinton, who is expected to sign the bill into law and set in motion a restoration plan that would take nearly four decades to complete.

By passing the measure, 312 to 2, House Republicans and Democrats set aside their partisan rancor for two hours this morning and made the Everglades bill their final vote before leaving town to campaign for the Nov. 7 elections.

The blueprint to restore the Everglades was developed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The plan is to revamp South Florida’s water supply by catching and storing rainwater, then rerouting its flow into the Everglades, which stretches south of Orlando through the Florida Keys.”

September 26, 1994: Tucson Shuts off CAP Supply; 1908: First Chlorine Use in US; 1855: Handle Put Back on Broad Street Pump

September 26, 1994: Tucson Shuts off Direct Delivery of Central Arizona Project Water Supply. Corrosive water destroying pipes in a major American city preceded the events in Flint, Michigan by over two decades. On November 4, 1992, the water department for Tucson, Arizona, (Tucson Water or TW) began delivery of a new water supply: treated surface water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP)—primarily Colorado River water. Putting treated CAP water into the TW distribution system caused a corrosion problem that resulted in colored water (e.g., rusty, red, orange, yellow and brown) flowing from customer taps. Tucson’s introduction of CAP water is a story of mistakes committed at all levels of the utility and by the Tucson City Council.

Technical mistakes included not preparing the distribution system to receive a more complex surface water supply. TW was a groundwater utility that relied on about 200 wells distributed throughout the system. Recognizing their lack of experience with treating surface water, they hired treatment plant operators from other utilities to run the new $80 million leading-edge-technology treatment plant. Unfortunately, the same level of focus and preparation was not applied to the aging distribution system, which received, literally overnight, a chloraminated supply to half its customers from a single point of entry.

One of the biggest mistakes was not testing the impact of treated CAP water on corroded galvanized steel pipes. There were about 200 miles of this 2-inch substandard pipe in the system. When treated CAP water hit these pipes, the iron corrosion deposits inside the pipes were stripped away causing colored water, taste and odor problems, and damage to home plumbing, appliances and property due to flooding.

There was a rush to deliver CAP water and to hold down costs to the detriment of needed studies, which would have shown that raising the treated water pH for corrosion control was the proper approach.

Also high on the list of pre-delivery problems was a lack of political will to replace the substandard galvanized and cast iron street mains. The presence of these substandard pipes made the TW distribution system ripe for a catastrophic corrosion problem due to unsound corrosion control practices.

Delivery of CAP water was terminated on September 26, 1994, because of the inability of TW to control the colored water problem and the resulting political uproar. The $80 million treatment plant was shut down and has not been used since.

After a series of management resignations and firings over several years, Tucson hired David Modeer as the Director of TW. Modeer and his management team put the utility on the road to recovery. Along with a carefully planned technical program to select the correct corrosion treatment and deal with the taste and odor problems, an innovative public information campaign that also included a public apology for the CAP debacle, began to restore the credibility of TW. Customers were invited to actively participate in determining the future use, treatment and quality of CAP water via such methods as consumer preference research and participation in an extensive bottled water program.

Dedication of CAVSARP/Clearwater Project, 5/3/01

After the voters defeated a proposition in 1999 that would have severely limited the ability to use CAP water in the future, TW completed an aquifer storage and recovery project in the nearby Avra Valley. The Central Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project (CAVSARP) allowed the utility to fully use its CAP allotment and serve a recovered groundwater/recharged CAP water mix that was accepted by TW customers. Tucson Water turned around a disaster into a singular success. Because of its ability to conjunctively use CAP water and groundwater, Tucson is now one of the more drought-resistant communities in the Southwest.

Commentary: Marie Pearthree and I are writing a book about what happened in Tucson before, during and after the corrosion problem doomed their new water supply. A wealth of material has revealed previously unknown information related to TW’s problems. The results of these efforts are much-needed lessons for water utilities on how to avoid TW’s mistakes and how to successfully introduce a new water supply. As of this date in 2017, we are finishing up the research and beginning to write some of the chapters. It is hard to predict when we will complete the book, but we will be giving papers on what we have found during our research at several venues in 2018. Watch this space for presentation times, dates and locations.

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

September 26, 1908:  106th anniversary of the first day of operation of the chlorination facility at Boonton Reservoir for Jersey City, NJ.  This was the first continuous use of chlorine in the U.S. for drinking water disinfection.

In the field of water supply, there were big moves afoot in the state of New Jersey at the turn of the 20th century. Jersey City had suffered with a contaminated water supply for decades causing tens of thousands of deaths from typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. In 1899, the City contracted with the Jersey City Water Supply Company to build a dam on the Rockaway River and provide a new water supply. The dam created Boonton Reservoir, which had a storage capacity of over seven billion gallons. One of the company’s employees, Dr. John L. Leal, would have an enormous impact on this water supply and the history of water treatment. Leal was a physician, public health professional and water quality expert. Leal’s job with the company was to remove sources of contamination in the Rockaway River watershed above the reservoir. Water from the project was served to the City beginning on May 23, 1904.

When it came time for Jersey City to pay the company for the new water supply, they balked. The price tag was steep—over $175 million in current dollars. Using newly developed bacteriological methods, consultants for the City claimed that the water was not “pure and wholesome,” and they filed suit against the company to get a reduced purchase price. The trial that resulted pitted the water quality experts of the day against one another in a battle of expert witnesses.

The opinion of the judge was published on May 1, 1909. In that opinion, Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens said that Boonton Reservoir did a good job on average of reducing the bacteria concentrations in the water provided. However, he noted that two to three times per year, especially after intense rainstorms, the reservoir short-circuited and relatively high bacteria levels resulted.

Rather than build expensive sewers that would deal with only part of the bacteria contamination problem (an early recognition of non-point source pollution) Leal and the company attorney argued to install “other plans or devices” that would do a better job. The judge agreed and gave them a little over three months to prove their idea. Leal had decided in May 1908 that it was time to add a chemical disinfectant to drinking water. He was all too familiar with the suffering and death caused by typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. He knew of some successful instances of using forms of chlorine in Europe, but nothing had been attempted in the U.S. on such a large-scale basis.

Leal was convinced that adding a disinfectant to the Jersey City water supply was the best course. He had done laboratory studies that convinced him that a fraction of a ppm of chlorine would kill disease-causing bacteria. In the face of the certain disapproval of his peers and possible condemnation by the public, he moved forward.

However, no chlorine feed system treating 40 million gallons per day had ever been designed or built and if the feed system failed to operate reliably, all of the courage of his convictions would not have amounted to much. He needed the best engineer in the country to do the work. He needed George Warren Fuller. In 1908, Fuller was famous for his work in filtration. He had designed an aluminum sulfate feed system treating 30 million gallons per day for the Little Falls treatment plant. On July 19, 1908, Leal left his attorney’s office in Jersey City and took the ferry to Manhattan. In Fuller’s office at 170 Broadway, he hired the famous engineer (undoubtedly on the basis of a handshake) and told him that the bad news was that he needed the work done in a little over three months.

Ninety-nine days later, the chlorine feed system was built and operational. Calcium hypochlorite (known then as chloride of lime or bleaching powder) was made into a concentrated solution, diluted with water and fed through a calibrated orifice to the water before it traveled by gravity to Jersey City. The feed system worked flawlessly from day one and continued to operate successfully for all of the following days. Liquid chlorine eventually replaced chloride of lime, but September 26, 2013, marks the 105th anniversary of the first continuous use of chlorine on a water supply—the longest period of water disinfection anywhere in the world.

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

Broadwick [formerly, Broad] Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house.

September 26, 1855:  The St. James Board of Commissioners of Paving voted 10 to 2 to reopen the Broad Street pump at the urging of local residents.  Dr. John Snow had prevailed upon them a year earlier to remove the pump handle after he presented his evidence that cholera deaths were geographically clustered around the well site.

Reference: Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 310.