Tag Archives: water

March 27, 1807: Birth of James P. Kirkwood

March 27, 1807: Birth of James P. Kirkwood who authored the classic book Report on the Filtration of River Waters, which was the first book in any language to focus on the filtration of municipal water supplies. The book summarized his investigation covering 1865-69 where he described the filters and filter galleries he visited in 19 European water works. On this same date in 1865 (his 58th birthday), Kirkwood was appointed Chief Engineer by the Board of Water Commissioners for the City of St. Louis, MO.

James Pugh Kirkwood (27 March 1807 – 22 April 1877) was a 19th-century American civil engineer. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 27 March 1807. He worked for the Long Island Rail Road, and gained notice in 1848 for his construction of the Starrucca Viaduct near Lanesboro, Pennsylvania, considered to be the most expensive railroad bridge at the time, as well as the largest stone viaduct, and for its first use of concrete in American bridge construction.

He arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1850 as chief engineer of the Pacific Railroad, and was responsible for the construction of the road from St. Louis to Pacific, Missouri. The towns of Kirkwood, Missouri, and Kirkwood, New York, are named after him. In 1865 he was appointed Chief Engineer of St. Louis, Missouri, in charge of the design of a state-of-the-art waterworks. He served in that capacity until 1867, when he was replaced by Thomas Jefferson Whitman, brother of Walt Whitman.

In 1867 he moved back to New York and served as President of the American Society of Civil Engineers from 1867 to 1868.”

March 26, 1914: Typhoid in Rockville, MD

March 26, 1914: Municipal Journal letter to the editor. Typhoid Epidemic at Rockville, MD. “Prof. Earle B. Phelps for the United States Government at Washington, Robert B. Morse, chief engineer Maryland State Board of Health, a number of others and the writer were recently called upon by the authorities at Rockville to inquire into and alleviate a typhoid epidemic in which two per cent. of the entire population were stricken with the disease. There have been more than 20 cases, but to date there have been no deaths.

Rockville, a small town of 1,100 inhabitants, lies about 18 miles distant from Washington, D. C. It is built on the backbone of a ridge draining into three watersheds. Since 1897 the town has operated its own waterworks, obtaining a supply from two driven wells about 40 feet apart and some 225 feet deep, located in the valley in the direct line of the storm water run off from the town which takes approximately one-half the runoff.

The district surrounding the pumping station is sparsely built up, the town is unsewered and has few storm water drains. Kitchen and bath wastes are permitted to pass into the street and down the gutter. Cesspools and open closets dot the hillside. A small stream passing near the pumping station serves as an outlet for floods, kitchen wastes, etc. The normal flow of the creek does not exceed 4 cubic feet per minute.

The soil formation is clay (disintegrated rock), which is in turn underlaid with rock in layers, the seams of the rock containing clay, broken stone, etc., and in some instances forming open crevices and pockets….

The wells have been in service for nearly 17 years and the people have, until now, suffered no ill therefrom. However, after the installation of the supply, it was noticed from time to time during large storms that inundated the valley, that No. 1 well occasionally supplied turbid water. It was noticed further, that by pumping No. 1 well continuously for several hours, the water level was lowered very materially in well No. 2. Also that when No. 2 well was pumped the water was never turbid. and that the water level in well No. 1 was very little affected. Well No. 1 always seemed to have a surplus of water, whereas well No. 2 dropped fully 70 feet, in fact to such depth that the deep well pump would just draw all the well flowed.

This information should have indicated at once both to the town authorities and the public that No. 1 well was drawing from a surface supply; that the well was not tight, and that it should have been fixed or abandoned.

The sketch enclosed shows the approximate location of pumping station, creek, topography of ground and position of nearest dwellings….About one hour after the water containing dye would flood the elderberry bush the dye would appear in well No. 1. When examined, this water showed gross pollution, whereas water in well No. 2 gave practically no indication of pollution. More than a week was consumed in locating the source of pollution. The first home in which the typhoid had occurred was the one nearest the wells and the one which was polluting the well.

The water is now being sterilized with hypochlorite and use of well No. 1 discontinued, and it has been recommended to extend a 6-inch casing down well No. 2 to the 6-inch well barrel, using a piece of jute to make a temporary joint between pipe and well and to fill the well barrel between the new casing and the rock with cement, to pump and test well as originally tried when the contamination was established, and if it still shows contamination from an analysis after sterilizing and pumping, to drive a new well.”

Reference: Hatton, Herbert W. 1914. Letter to the Editor. Municipal Journal. 36:13(March 26, 1914): 428-9.

Commentary: Well No. 1 would certainly qualify today as a Ground Water Under the Direct Influence of Surface Water. If anyone wonders why state health departments make such a big deal out of GWUDISW, they should read this article. Earle B. Phelps was one of the expert witnesses in the second Jersey City trial that evaluated the use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection. He opposed the use of chlorine in 1909, but he seems to have come around five years later.

March 25, 1639: First U.S. Water Power Canal

Mother Brook Canal

March 25, 1639: “America’s first canal to provide industrial water power began (dug by colonists in Dedham, MA); ran from Charles River to Neponset River at Mill Creek.”

Wikipedia article. “Mother Brook is the modern name for a stream that flows from the Charles River in Dedham, Massachusetts, to the Neponset River in the Hyde Park section of Boston, Massachusetts. Mother Brook was also known variously as East Brook and Mill Brook in earlier times. The man-made portion of Mother Brook is considered to have been the first canal in America dug by English settlers. Mother Brook was important to Dedham as its only source of water power for mills, from 1639 into the early 20th century.

Reference: “Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.php, Accessed November 14, 2012.

March 24, 1909: Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie, NY

March 24, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie. “Sedimentation is ineffective because there is nothing to be precipitated, coagulation is ineffective because there is nothing for the coagulant to attack, the efficiency of the filters is not as good at this season of the year, so disinfection is being tried. So far the results have been marvelous.

By the simple adding of the disinfectant (chloride of lime) to the raw water, as if by magic the purification is complete. The hypochlorite is added in the pump and the water then passes through the sedimentation basin. The last bacteriological result shows a reduction from 17,500 to 100. The filters continue to assist in the purification, but there is no necessity for careful regulation.

At present we are adding the disinfectant at the rate of one-half part of free chlorine per million, which figures about 36 pounds of hypochlorite per day for our consumption. There is absolutely no taste or trace of the chlorine in the filtered water, the process is simple, safe and complete. The expense at our present rate is 75 cents per day, where it has been as high as $10 for alum.

The suggestion that this disinfectant method be followed came to us from Mr. George C. Whipple, of New York City. The accompanying cut shows the general layout of the purification plant. The water takes the following procedure: It is pumped from the river into the inlet end of the sedimentation basin, a total lift of about 50 feet; the water then passes through the basin and out at the outlet end, thence by pipe line into the intermediate basin from which it is distributed to each one of the filters. From the filters the water passes to the clear water well and thence back to the station, where another set of pumps sends it to the College Hill distributing reservoir.

The disinfectant is being added from the coagulant basin, which is situated between the laboratory and station, inasmuch as the coagulant use has ceased until more turbid water arrives. Then the alum will be used in small quantities and the disinfectant added at the inlet end of the sedimentation basin.”

Reference: Harding, Robert J. 1909. “Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie.” Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:12(March 24, 1909): 484.

Commentary: Chlorination began on March 17, 1909, as noted in a post on this blog. Poughkeepsie was the third documented use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection in the U.S. as noted in the book The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.

March 23, 1842: Birth of Clemens Herschel

March 23, 1842: Clemens Herschel is born. “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.

March 22, 1905: Owens Valley Only Viable Source; 1993: World Water Day; 1733: Carbonated Water Invented

J.B. Lippincott, Fred Eaton and William Mulholland. This photograph appeared in the Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1906

March 22, 1905: Mulholland Recommends the Owens Valley as Only Viable Source. “In March 1905, Fred Eaton went to the Owens Valley to buy land options and water rights.   The major acquisition of this trip was the Long Valley Reservoir site. Eaton paid $450,000 for a two month option on ranch lands and 4,000 head of cattle. All in all, he acquired the rights to more than 50 miles of riparian land, basically all parcels of any importance not controlled by the Reclamation Service.

On March 22nd, Mulholland reported to the Board of Water Commissioners. He had surveyed all the water sources available in Southern California and he recommended the Owens River as the only viable source. Immediately following Mulholland’s presentation, Fred Eaton [entrepreneur and form mayor of Los Angeles] made his proposal that the City acquire from him whatever water rights and options he had been able to secure to further the project.

While in the valley, Eaton had conducted some business for Lippincott [J.B. Lippincott was the supervising engineer for California in the newly created U.S. Reclamation Service] as well. The bulk of Lippincott’s staff had been diverted to the lower Colorado River. The floodwaters of the Colorado River had broken through temporary irrigation barriers and had carved a new channel southeast to the Salton Sink.

Lippincott knew Eaton was headed to the Owens Valley. Several power applications were pending for projects on the Owens River. Lippincott required information about who the owners were, the use to which the power would be put, and the potential of these projects to interfere with the Reclamation Service’s activities. Lippincott asked Eaton to do this work. This trip became the source of conflict between the Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles.

Eaton visited the Independence Land Office to do Lippincott’s research. There he met Stafford Wallace Austin, the Land Register. The impression Eaton left was that he was there to do work for the Reclamation Service, and his subsequent land acquisition activities were interpreted in that light.

Whether deliberate or not, this impression caused anger among residents of the area, most notably Austin, when they discovered that Eaton was not acting on behalf of the Reclamation Service. To the people of the Owens Valley, selling water rights and land for a desired federal project was far different from selling land to Eaton and water rights to the City of Los Angeles.

Austin embodied the people’s feelings of betrayal and anger. They were afraid that the Reclamation Service intended to abandon them, serving the interests of the City of Los Angeles instead. Austin wrote to the Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office and to President Theodore Roosevelt to protest.

Meanwhile a serious decision faced the Reclamation Service. It was required to make a recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior regarding the feasibility of a project in the Owens Valley.”

March 22, 1993: Since 1993, World Water Day has been declared by the United Nations General Assembly. World Water Day is observed on March 22 every year. The purpose of the day is to recognize the importance of earth’s most precious natural resource. The celebration was proposed 20 years ago at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

March 22, 1733: Joseph Priestly invented carbonated water (seltzer). In 1767, the first drinkable manmade glass of carbonated water (soda water) was invented by Joseph Priestley.

Joseph Priestley published a paper called Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air (1772), which explained how to make soda water. However, Priestley did not exploit the business potential of any soda water products.

Reference: “Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.php, Accessed November 14, 2012.

March 21, 1912: Philadelphia Filters Overtaxed

Plan of Belmont Filter Plant 1903; phillyh2o.org

March 21, 1912: Municipal Journal article. Unusual Conditions Overtax Filtration Plant. “Philadelphia, Pa.-Conditions of the water supply continue such that Director Neff persists in his warning that householders should continue to boil water for at least two weeks. This applies particularly to West Philadelphia, where the raw supply from the Schuylkill river went to the Belmont [slow sand] filter beds in such condition that the filters were incapable of extracting the bacteria as completely as would be possible under conditions that are normal. The recent heavy rains which scoured the hills and streams of the accumulation of all substances during the winter and sent it down the Schuylkill, produced such a condition as the city has not had to contend with since scientific treatment of the water supply was undertaken. While the water is clearing the danger will not have entirely passed for two weeks. The question of the use of chemicals in the West Philadelphia supply has been taken up. For two years chloride of lime has been utilized in the treatment of the supply filtered by the Torresdale plant, as a safeguard in destroying the bacteria. The advisability of providing some additional safeguard under such unusual emergencies as the present, when the water supplies of many cities are in practically the same condition as that of this city is now engaging the attention of Directors Neff, of Health and Charities, Cooke, of Public Works, and Chief Dunlap, of the Water Bureau.”

References: “Unusual Conditions Overtax Filtration Plant.” 1912. Municipal Journal article 32:12(March 21, 1912): 452.

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

Commentary: Boil water order for two weeks? Even after more than three years since the first introduction of chlorine into the Jersey City water supply, many cities were still reluctant to adopt the new technology wholesale. It was incidents such as the one described in the article, which led to better designs of filter plants (mechanical filtration) and universal application of chlorination.

Manual Cleaning of Belmont Slow Sand Filter Beds, 1905; phillyh2o.org