Boiled in China: A Personal Source of Safe Drinking Water

how-to-boil-waterIn May 2013, I gave a series of lectures at Tsinghua University and other academic institutions in China. During my travels, I was hosted at a number of banquets. I do not drink alcohol, so it was a little awkward when the time came for giving toasts. I am sensitive to caffeine, so tea was not an option. As is my custom, I asked for water—plain water. I received boiled water from a thermos, and the water was still hot when it was poured into my glass. I thought that this was curious.

I asked some of the professors and students I was with about the hot drinking water. They told me that it was the custom in China to only drink boiled tap water. Also, serving water that is hot assures the person receiving it that the water was previously boiled. No one drinks cold water out of the tap. They drink bottled water cold or at room temperature, but tap water is treated differently. Ok, but there must be more to this story. 

Introduction

Any current guidebook about China carries an explicit warning:  Don’t drink tap water unless it is boiled. I was aware that China’s surface water supplies are polluted, but I was also certain that China was employing at least conventional water treatment including filtration and disinfection for large city water supplies. What happens in the pipes is a different story. A few years ago in Taiwan, I was told that water leaving the treatment plants was safe to drink but during its passage through an aging pipe system, there were numerous opportunities for contamination by leaking sewers. People in Taiwan also boil their tap water.

It is pretty clear that boiling  water began in China in ancient times as an individual solution to drinking water that people knew from their observations was not safe. No central water systems served safe drinking water to cities in ancient times. Historical writings about China describe how this individual health protection measure became a cultural institution. Also, drinking boiled water is inextricably linked to the widespread consumption of tea. The history of tea in Chinese culture is part of the history of individuals protecting themselves from disease.

China Boiling:  Tea and Water

ancient-chinese-tea-Tea drinking in China originated according to several traditions. A legend has Emperor Shennong accidentally discovering tea as a drink in the year 2737 BCE. One account focused on the sanitary idea. “Once upon a time King Shen Nong, known as the father of agriculture and medicine, decreed that for health reasons his subjects must boil water before drinking it.” (Evans 1992) [One should always be careful about stories that begin “once upon a time…”] While a servant was boiling water for the Emperor’s use, leaves from wild tea branches were accidentally blown into the cauldron of boiling water. The Emperor so enjoyed the taste of the flavored beverage that he investigated the domestic cultivation of tea.

There are early references in Chinese literature that recognized the significance of clean drinking water.

“The importance of supplies of pure drinking water was appreciated very early amongst the Chinese. Already in one of the most ancient texts, the I Ching (Book of Changes) which we might date somewhere about the -7th century [7th century BCE], we find the commonplace, ‘Men do not drink water from foul wells.’ The Shih Ming dictionary (+100) [1st century CE] says, punning, ‘A well (ching) means essentially clear and clean (chhing), the clear produce of a spring.’ Regular custom in ancient China demanded the periodic cleaning of wells.” (Needham et al. 1970)

001ec94a1ea10f7cfbbb18Tea is mentioned in writings in the third and second centuries BCE. About 800 CE, Lu Yu wrote the first definitive book on tea during the Tang Dynasty (618 to 906 CE). One author credited tea with germ-killing and healthful properties that were advantageous during that period.

“Its powerful antiseptic properties meant it was safer to drink than previous beverages such as rice or millet beer, even if the water was not properly boiled during preparation. Modern research has found that the phenolics (tannic acid) in tea can kill the bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid, and dysentery [not that anyone knew this in the 7th century]. Tea could be prepared quickly and easily from dried leaves and did not spoil like beer. It was, in effect, an efficient and convenient water-purification technology that dramatically reduced the prevalence of waterborne diseases, reducing infant mortality and increasing longevity.” (Standage 2005)

Care must be taken when viewing old texts describing China. Western authors viewed Chinese practices through their lens of, oftentimes, a staggering fount of ignorance. However, in some cases, observations by western travelers give us insight into daily practices.

“The climate of the northern part [of Hainan Island] is very unhealthful, especially on account of the water; the inhabitants are obliged to boil the quantity of water in the morning, which they design to use all that day.” (Brookes 1741)

This statement written in the middle of the 18th century CE is interesting for a number of reasons. First, the author assumes that the so-called unhealthfulness of the northern part of the island was somehow linked to the water. The revelations of Dr. John Snow and the cause of the cholera episode near the Broad Street pump and its relation to contaminated water was not published for another 115 years. The germ theory of disease was not espoused by Pasteur for 125 years. Second, the author observed that the inhabitants of the northern part improved the unhealthfulness of the water by boiling it. No explanation is given how boiling was know to be the way to improve unhealthful water—an early example of waterborne disease prevention.

Recent histories of China often observe the role that tea and boiled water played in providing a healthful drink.

“…the most influential discovery [by the Chinese] was tea, a beverage that would have profound effects on Chinese art and literature and on its economy….Throughout history, Chinese attributed wondrous benefits to tea drinking, including cures that cannot be proven. However, tea was valuable because it offered the benefits of boiled water, as opposed to impure and sometimes polluted water.” (Rossabi 2013)

“…safer alternatives to potentially contaminated water, a problem circumvented by the use of boiled water in a tea culture [in China]…the poor who could not afford tea would sip hot water instead.” (Dikotter, et al. 2004)

Ropp observed that creating a healthful drink had economic and demographic consequences.

“Tea also became a major item of internal trade. Produced first in the far southwest [of China], its use spread throughout China, and by the mid-Tang [Dynasty] it had become the national drink of choice. Because it required boiled water, the use of tea had major public health benefits as well and contributed to the rapid population growth of the Tang and subsequent periods.” (Ropp 2010)

An eighteenth century travel publication observed the actions of Chinese doctors treating their patients. “The Chinese physicians allow their patients to drink water, but it must be boiled…” (Anon. 1772)

More medical advice originated in the 12th century CE.

“Various observers report that the Chinese consider cold liquids, including water, as unhealthy, injurious to the intestines. Most Chinese…would endure thirst for a long time before drinking cold water, and would much prefer warm or hot water. That this is not a modern phenomenon is shown by twelfth-century author Chuang Chho, who wrote that even when traveling ordinary Chinese are careful to drink only boiled water. In traditional times, particularly in North China, hot water was a usual roadside beverage, and cold water rarely consumed.” (Simoons 1991).

Another source for the Chho quote puts it in even broader perspective.

“A rather astonishing statement is found in the writings of Chuang Chho (fl. c. +1126) [12th century CE], for he says:  ‘Even when the common people are travelling they take care only to drink boiled water.’ We have not yet been able to locate the exact source of this statement, which is quoted by Fan Hsing-Chun but seems not to be in any of the books of Chuang Chho available to us; yet there is nothing in the least improbable about it since the practice of drinking tea and consequently boiling the water in which it was infused, had already a thousand years of life before the time of Chuang Chho.” (Needham et al. 1970)

Today, Chinese people with whom I have spoken relate that they learned to drink hot water with meals from their parents who undoubtedly learned it from their parents and so on back to the beginnings of time. Some Chinese believe that it is unhealthful to drink cold liquids with a meal because the cold water would solidify fats in the stomach and impede their digestion. There is no scientific evidence for this but it seems to be deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. (Custer 2010)

The consumption of tea and boiled water was carried with Chinese workers to other countries. Authors have commented on the advantages of using Chinese laborers to build the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S.

“White workers were often sick with intestinal diseases. Chinese weren’t. Diet made the difference. Whites ate what the railroad gave them—boiled beef and potatoes—and drank water from polluted streams. The Chinese got food from Chinese merchants in San Francisco, paid for and cooked it themselves, and drank tea made from germ-free boiled water.” (Civitello 2008, see also Ambrose 2000)

Boiled History in the Western World

China is not the only place in the world where individual solutions to contaminated water were used. Boiling water for drinking purposes was often mentioned in ancient western texts.

“Herodotus tells us that Cyrus the Great, King of Persia (sixth century BCE), when going to war, took boiled water in silver flagons, loaded on four-wheeled carts drawn by mules. A later Greek writer, Athenaeus of Naucratis (third and second centuries BCE), says that the water was boiled in these instances to make it keep—which reflects the opinion if not also the custom of his time.” (Baker 1981)

“Soldiers of Alexander the Great [356 to 323 BCE] followed the advice of the celebrated Aristotle, to boil their drinking water.” (Blancou 1995)

“The Emperor Nero (50 to 68 BCE), both boiled water for drinking purposes, and subsequently cooled it in glass vessels to which snow was externally applied.” (Latham 1884)

“Indeed, it is generally admitted that all water is more wholesome when it has been boiled…. The best corrective of unwholesome water is to boil it down to one half.” (Pliny 77-79 CE)

“Paulus Aegineta, a Greek physician of the seventh century [CE], a great traveler and a writer of works on medicine that were chiefly compilations and commentaries, noted that water containing impurities or having a fetid smell might be made fit to drink by boiling….” (Baker 1981)

 “In Persia, Avicenna (980-1046 CE) indicated in Book III of his Canon that water may be rendered drinkable by evaporation and distillation, or simply by boiling.” (Blancou 1995)

In the 19th century, people knew that boiling water could be advantageous from a health perspective. Dr. John Snow (1813-1858) of Broad Street pump fame followed a strict vegetarian regime and only drank distilled water. (Johnson 2006)

In 1897, Paterson, New Jersey, lived through a typhoid fever epidemic, which killed 39 people. Dr. John L. Leal, health officer for the city, advised all residents to boil their water until the contamination of the water supply, the Passaic River, was gone. (McGuire 2013)

Lincoln, England experienced a typhoid fever epidemic in 1905. One of the proposed solutions for the contaminated water supply was for the city to provide boiled water in bulk to the 54,000 people in the service area. Instead, chlorine was added at the influent to the ineffective slow sand filter. The citizens were individually advised to boil their tap water until the chlorine addition system was stabilized. (McGuire 2013)

Today, anyone in the U.S. who is served by a community water supply that has had compliance problems with bacterial standards is familiar with a boil-water advisory. Such advisories are in place until the water quality problem has been resolved.

But western people do not consistently boil their tap water before drinking despite a seemingly long history of the practice. Why is this? A reasonable explanation is that they do not feel that they have to. No ingrained cultural imperative drives them to boil water, because the scourges of cholera, typhoid and diarrheal diseases were conquered long ago by filtration and disinfection. Currently, strong regulations govern the behavior of utilities that serve water to citizens—and those regulations are enforced. Exceptions to assumed water safety are notable for their rarity: Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Cabool, Missouri; Walkerton, Canada.

Since the 1980s, scary media stories and slick marketing campaigns have driven consumers in the U.S. to bottled water and home treatment devices. Public polling has shown over this period that a significant fraction of the U.S. population is concerned with tap water safety. (Jones 2008)

Boiling:  Not a Comprehensive Solution

With the emphasis on drinking tea and boiled water, one might assume that waterborne disease was rare in China over the centuries. Primary information sources show that this is not true. No records are known before the 19th century, but accounts indicate that the first cholera pandemic visited China in 1820. Cholera was also noted in the 1860s in China. No detailed recordkeeping in the greater China landmass existed in the 19th century (as it did in England and the U.S.), so we do not know the death tolls from these epidemics. (Surgeon General 1875)

Soldiers boiling water for quake hit area in Tibet 2013

Soldiers boiling water for quake hit area in Tibet 2013

If we fast-forward to the 21st century, we recognize that waterborne disease is still a problem in China. An outbreak of cholera occurred in China’s Hubei Province in 2012. (Vaccine News 2012) One article pegged the incidence of typhoid in the Hongta District of Yunnan Province at 113 per 100,000. You would have to go back 100 years to find this level of disease in the U.S. Treatments for the disease have dramatically improved over the past 100 years, so the death rate typhoid fever is much lower today in China. (Wang et al. 2013) A report from China’s Center for Disease Control declared that the death rate for diarrheal diseases had decreased but that a high incidence rate for these diseases still existed. (China CDC 2005)

Thus, it appears that drinking boiled water and tea is not a comprehensive public health solution to contaminated drinking water in China. China has a long way to go before it is providing safe sources of drinking water to all its citizens. It is not clear what the Chinese public’s reaction was to a pre-Olympic declaration that the water in Beijing was safe to drink. (Weifeng 2007) All I know is that the people that I talked to in Beijing are still boiling their tap water.

Premier Wen Jiabao drinks boiled tap water at a resident's home in Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province in 2007

Premier Wen Jiabao drinks boiled tap water at a resident’s home in Wuxi, east China’s Jiangsu Province in 2007

Recently, China announced that by 2015 safe drinking water would be supplied to all rural areas. (Xinhua 2013) I wish the country luck in reaching this goal, but it is hard to imagine that China is willing to spend the billions of dollars needed to ensure safe drinking water for all of the people in that country. In my opinion, they are not going to be able to do it by 2015.

What are the Costs?

Individual solutions to drinking water that the public rightly or wrongly deems to be unsafe result in significant costs. In China, people are using the age-old solution of boiling tap water. I have estimated that the energy associated with boiling water before drinking is the equivalent of 36 million barrels of oil per year. However, people in China are not only boiling their water they are also buying bottled water in record amounts. One estimate for 2012 puts bottled water purchases in the country at 9 billion USD. One projection for bottled water sales in 2017 is 16 billion USD. (Doherty 2013)

healthy-habits-for-kids3China is not the only country where the public has sought out individual safe drinking water solutions. In the U.S. we do not boil tap water, but bottled water sales for 2012 were estimated at 11.8 billion USD. (International Bottled Water Association 2013) A reduction in the public’s confidence with tap water is often mentioned as one of the important reasons for the increase in bottled water sales. (Mackey et al. 2003)

The economic impacts of boiling water and using bottled water are enormous. In addition, these alternatives generate huge amounts of plastic waste, use vast amounts of energy, create significant air pollution problems and generate gases responsible for climate change. It is incumbent upon both the U.S. and China to improve the public’s faith in tap water. Otherwise, the public will continue to seek out individual solutions that have costs no one wants to pay.

References:

  • Ambrose, S.E. 2000. Nothing Like It in the World:  The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869. New York:Simon & Schuster, Kindle location 3022.
  • Anon. 1772. The Chinese Traveler:  Containing a Geographical, Commercial, and Political History of China. London:E. and C. Dilly, 185.
  • 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, 4 and 7.
  • Blancou, J. 1995. “History of Disinfection from Early Times Until the End of the 18th Century.” Rev. sci. tech. Off. int. Epiz. 14:1, 34.
  • Brookes, R. (transl.) 1741. The General History of China, Containing a Geographical, Historical, Chronological, Political and Physical Description of the Empire of China, Chinese-Tartary, Corea [Korea] and Thibet. from the original in French by P. Duhalde who compiled the text from reports by missionaries. London:J. Watts, 246.
  • China CDC. 2005. “Review Research on the Literature of Diarrhea Disease in China (1990-2004).” National Center for Rural Water Supply Technical Guidance. December. http://www.wpro.who.int/environmental_health/documents/docs/APW_REPReviewResearchonTheLiteratureofDiarrheaDiseaseinChina_19902004.pdf (Accessed December 17, 2013).
  • Civitello, L. 2008. Cuisine and Culture:  A History of Food and People. Hoboken, NJ:Wiley, 219.
  • Custer, C. 2010. “Why Do Chinese People Drink Hot Water.” http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2010/12/why-do-chinese-people-drink-hot-water/ (Accessed December 16, 2013).
  • Dikotter, F., Laaman, L.P. and Xun, Z. 2004. Narcotic Culture:  A History of Drugs in China. London:C. Hurst & Co., 16. (Footnoted as Report of the Ophthalmic Hospital in Canton, 1862. p. 9.)
  • Doherty, D. 2013. “China’s Unsafe Water is Nestlé’s Opportunity.” Business Week. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-24/chinas-unsafe-water-is-nestl-s-opportunity (Accessed December 17, 2013).
  • Evans, J.C. 1992. Tea in China:  The History of China’s National Drink. Santa Barbara, CA:Greenwood Press (ABC-CLIO), 1.
  • International Bottled Water Association. 2013. “U.S. Consumption of Bottled Water Shows Continued Growth, Increasing 6.2 Percent in 2012; Sales up 6.7 Percent.” http://www.bottledwater.org/us-consumption-bottled-water-shows-continued-growth-increasing-62-percent-2012-sales-67-percent (Accessed December 17, 2013).
  • Johnson, Steven. 2006. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World, New York City, N.Y.: Riverhead Books.
  • Jones, J.M. 2008. “Polluted Drinking Water Wast No. 1 Concern Before AP Report.” Gallup. http://www.gallup.com/poll/104932/polluted-drinking-water-no-concern-before-report.aspx (Accessed December 20, 2013).
  • Latham, B. 1884. “Softening of Water.” in Water Supply and Distribution:  Conferences by the Society of Arts on Thursday and Friday, July 24 and 25. London:William Clowes and Sons, 111 and 127.
  • Mackey et al. 2003. Consumer Perceptions of Tap Water, Bottled Water, and Filtration Devices. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.
  • McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.
  • Needham, J. et al. 1970. Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West. Cambridge, UK:Cambridge University Press, 360-2.
  • Pliny the Elder. 77-79 CE. Natural History. http://perseus.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/citequery3.pl?dbname=PerseusLatinTexts&getid=1&query=Plin.%20Nat.%2031.23  (Accessed December 16, 2013).
  • Ropp, P.S. 2010. China in World History. New York:Oxford University Press, 62.
  • Rossabi, M. 2013. A History of China. Malden, MA:Wiley-Blackwell, 120.
  • Standage, T. 2005. A History of the World in Six Glasses. New York:Walker and Co., 179.
  • Surgeon General of the U.S. 1875. The Cholera Epidemic of 1873 in the United States. 537 and 738.
  • Vaccine News Daily. 2012. “Cholera Outbreak in China Declared Over.” (October 23) http://vaccinenewsdaily.com/asia/320335-cholera-outbreak-in-china-declared-over/ (Accessed December 17, 2013).
  • Wang, J.F. et al. 2013. “Spatiotemporal Transmission and Determinants of Typhoid and Paratyphoid Fever in Hongta District, Yunnan Province, China.” PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. (March 13) http://www.plosntds.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pntd.0002112 (Accessed December 17, 2013).
  • Weifeng, L. 2007. “Beijing Tap Water Now Safe to Drink.” China Daily. (July 3) http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-07/03/content_908401.htm (Accessed December 16, 2013).
  • Xinhua. 2013. “China Pledges Safe Rural Drinking Water by 2015.” Global Times. http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/807550.shtml#.UrAI3yjFnTQ (Accessed December 16, 2013).
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Pure and Wholesome—The Original Definition of Safe Drinking Water

Pure and Wholesome sm

by Michael J. McGuire

I have been intrigued by the term “pure and wholesome” throughout my career. After I came upon it during my research for The Chlorine Revolution, I knew that I had to learn more about it. One of the best descriptions of what pure and wholesome meant at the turn of the 20th century was given in the context of two trials about water quality in Jersey City, New Jersey. (McGuire 2013)

The Jersey City Trials

In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey signed a contract with a private water company to build a new water supply on the Rockaway River to supply up to 50 million gallons per day. Included in the contract were requirements to build a large dam, create a reservoir holding seven billion gallons and construct a 23-mile pipeline-tunnel conveyance to transport the water to the City. The contract specifically required that the water delivered be “pure and wholesome.” No treatment was provided for the water except the clarification and opportunity for bacterial die off provided by the detention time in the reservoir.

Delivery of water from Boonton Reservoir began on May 23, 1904. However, the City was not happy with the quality of the water or the price that they would have to pay for the water works. They filed a lawsuit against the private water company that resulted in two trials. The first trial focused on the bacterial quality of the water and how that quality stacked up against the requirement that the water must be pure and wholesome. The contract language was very specific.

“‘The water proposed to be furnished is pure and wholesome.  The plan has been prepared so as to prevent all contamination thereof from any source in accordance with the specifications.’

The specifications provided as follows:

‘The water to be furnished must be pure and wholesome for drinking and domestic purposes.’” (Stevens 1908)

The judge’s opinion from the first trial made clear his definition of pure and wholesome.

“Again, the requirement that the water must be pure and wholesome does not mean that it shall be absolutely pure—of such purity as could be obtained in a laboratory—all that is required is that it be ‘free from pollution deleterious for drinking and domestic purposes.’” (Stevens 1908)

The Company tried to define pure and wholesome by showing that the typhoid fever death rate in Jersey City was now much lower than the typhoid death rates in other cities.  The judge acknowledged the improvement in Jersey City typhoid statistics but stated that the contract language was most important, “In the case in hand Jersey City bargained, not for water less polluted than that of some other cities, but for pure and wholesome water.” (Stevens 1908)

At the end of the first trial, the judge agreed with Jersey City that two or three times per year, the delivered water had high bacterial counts and did not meet the standard of pure and wholesome established in the contract. A second trial was held under the authority of a Special Master. Between the two trials, John L. Leal who worked for the private water company installed a chlorination system to kill the bacteria that resulted in the project’s water being labeled as impure and unwholesome. The purpose of the second trial was to determine if the use of chlorine was safe, reliable and effective. Most importantly, the second trial was to determine if the standard of pure and wholesome was met when chlorine was used.

On May 9, 1910, the Special Master filed his report, which was a victory for the private water company and for the use of chlorine to kill bacteria that contaminated drinking water.

“I do therefore find and report that this device [chlorination] 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 1910)

The usage of the term in this lawsuit seemed to be clear, but I was not satisfied. I wanted to know where the term came from, did it describe safe drinking water and did its definition change over time?

Pure and Wholesome Through the Ages

The first use of “pure and wholesome” is lost in the dim mists of history. However, it is likely that humans have used the concept embodied in the term since the beginnings of the written record. There are numerous examples of the use of the term in religious tracts, literature, scientific writings and news items. It is also clear from the early references that people were defining pure and wholesome based on their senses of sight, taste, smell and touch (feeling).

An important portion of the Koran (or Quran) related to diet has been translated many ways. One of alternatives is: “Eat (as lawful, pure and wholesome) from that which God has provided for you; and keep from disobedience to God, in Whom you have faith.” (emphasis added, Islam Awakened 2013)

In a discussion of the Torah, the concept is raised. “‘And Yaakov went out’ – This seemingly innocent opening of our Parasha is really not as simple as it may appear. Think about it: From where is Yaakov going out and where is he going to? He is departing from Yitzchak and Rivka’s warm home, from the cozy tent (as the verse says, “he dwelt in tents”), from a pure and wholesome environment (and Yaakov was “tam”, meaning wholesome or pure).” (emphasis added, Parashat Vayetze 2001)

An early Roman Catholic blessing for a water well contains the phrase, but we do not know for sure if this is wording from the early days of Christianity.  “Lord God almighty, who so disposed matters that water comes forth from the depths of this well by means of its pipes; grant, we pray, that with your help and by this blessing imparted through our ministry all diabolical wiles and cunning may be dispelled, and the water of this well may always remain pure and wholesome; through Christ our Lord.” (emphasis added, Sancta Missa 1962)

A 16th century philogist and humanist had something to say about the purity of the air. The work was originally written in Latin in 1584 and translated into English in 1594. “Art thou weary of the concourse of people? Here thou mayest be alone. Have thy worldly business tired thee? Here thou mayest be refreshed again, where the food of quietness and gentle blowing of the pure and wholesome air will even breathe a new life into thee.” (emphasis added, Lipsius 1584)

A 17th century use of the term in a religious context was notable. “…as there, the nature of the most pure & generous wine is described, whereby men are allured to drinke thereof; so here the right wine, the pure and wholesome doctrine out of the mouth of the Spouse, is declared by the company of Beleevers, to be pleasing and right…” (Ainsworth 1639)

In the 17th century, a topographer described the various winds that existed on the earth. “The East wind is very hot, and intemperately dry; yet very pleasant, pure and wholesome: (but chiefly in the morning) for it preserves the body sound, and in winter it produceth frost.” (Porter 1661)

One hundred and fifty years before the germ theory of disease was espoused, one author in 1718 tried to explain how the cleanliness of air and water were related.

“The Ancients, among the admirable rules delivered by them for the choice of water, frequently inculcate its similitude to air; partly on account of the greater lightness and purity of the finest waters, and partly on account of the changes wrought in them both by their stagnation, and mixture with heterogeneous particles. And indeed, as there is nothing that contributes more to render the air pure and wholesome, than its agitation by winds and gentle breezes; so neither does any thing preserve water from corrupting, and acquiring the most mischievous qualities, so well, as a brisk and rapid motion, which is so essentially necessary to this end, as to be constantly enumerated amonst (sic) the distinguishing characters of a wholesome water.” (emphasis added, Wintingham 1718)

In the early 19th century, a discussion of the Albany, New York, water supply made it clear that a good quality of water was needed to serve the City. “The importance of a constant and certain supply of pure and wholesome water, to the inhabitants of populous towns, can hardly be duly appreciated, and there is little danger that it should ever be overrated.” (emphasis added, Albany 1815)

A few years later, an author related the quality of the water based on its passage through soil. “Nature also compels the motion of this invaluable fluid through the bowels of the earth, and by various efforts, of which those of gravity, however, are the chief; thus effecting a most perfect filtration, and converting water, such as had even been derived from the most putrid supplies, into a beverage the most delicious, the most refreshing, and found generally to be perfectly wholesome.” (emphasis added, Berenger 1828)

In the 17th and 18th centuries, New York City struggled to find a reliable, safe water supply. Polluted wells and a grossly contaminated pond (the Collect) in southern Manhattan provided an inadequate water supply with the side benefit of providing death from cholera and typhoid fever. After much political maneuvering, Aaron Burr was able to get the state legislature to confer on the Manhattan Company the exclusive right to supply the City “…with pure and wholesome water.” (Blake 1956)

Pure and wholesome also figured in the early history of the Detroit water system. Rufus Wells built the first organized City water system on the banks of the Detroit River. The private water company supplied Detroit between 1827 and 1836. In 1836, the City purchased the water works from Wells for a reduced price of $20,500 as a result of his company not providing an adequate flow of water that was “clear, pure and wholesome.” (emphasis added, Daisy no date)

In the latter half of the 1800s, Rochester, New York, needed a new water supply, so they approached the state legislature for the authority to do so. “The result was the passage of the law entitled, ‘an act to supply the city of Rochester with pure wholesome water’ on April 27, 1872. By this act the mayor was directed to appoint five persons to constitute a ‘board of water commissioners,’ who were to ‘examine and consider all matters relative to supplying the City of Rochester with a sufficient quantity of pure and wholesome water for the use of its inhabitants, and for the extinguishment of fires.’” (emphasis added, (Hemlock 2013)

In a 1905 article describing the European practices of water purification, the author discussed the prevalent view that water from the ground, especially spring water, was of the highest quality. “Springs were deified by the ancients and something of this feeling remains, in the belief that they must be naturally pure and wholesome.” He went on to discount this notion due to problems caused by contamination. Even so, the author used the term pure and wholesome to refer to the highest quality, indeed water quality fit for the gods. (Kemna 1905)

Glass Pure and Wholesome smAs our understanding of disease and toxicology became more sophisticated, the interpretation of pure and wholesome became more complicated. In 1915, sanitary engineer John W. Hill published a paper about the history of the City of Cincinnati water works. In 1865, the City hired James P. Kirkwood who was, perhaps, the most famous water engineer of the time to determine whether a new and expanded water supply was necessary. The Ohio River had a number of quality problems that generated complaints from the users. Kirkwood recommended clarification in large basins followed by filtration using slow sand filters. While none of his recommendations were followed, it is interesting to note Hill’s take on the definition of pure and wholesome that was operative at the end of the Civil War. “In Mr. Kirkwood’s day not much was known of bacterial purification of water and his terms for a pure and wholesome water was that it should be “clear and colorless.’” A filtration plant would not be built in Cincinnati until 1907 and continuous chlorination would start as late as 1918.

In 1907, a famous sanitary engineer, George C. Whipple, wrote a book entitled The Value of Pure Water. In the book, was one of the more complete definitions of pure and wholesome for that time.

“To define the meaning of the expression “pure and wholesome water,” which is so often found in water supply contracts, would seem to be an easy matter, after all the study that has been given to the subject in recent years; but, although every one knows in a general way what is implied by this expression, yet when it comes to framing a definition in positive scientific terms, the problem is not as easy as it seems. This is not because the chemist and the biologist do not know what pure water is, but because water has so many attributes which have to be taken into consideration, and because these attributes vary in importance in every instance. ‘Pure and wholesome water’ is not a substance of absolute quality. Strictly speaking, pure water does not exist in nature; all natural waters contain substances in solution or in suspension; and in proportion as these substances are present, and in proportion as they are objectionable in character, the water is impure. Definitions of pure and wholesome water, therefore, generally state what foreign substances shall not be present, or in what amounts they are permissible….

Unquestionably the term ‘pure and wholesome water,’ as ordinarily used, relates to water intended to be used for drinking. Such a water must be free from all poisonous substances, as the salts of lead; it must be free from bacteria or other organisms liable to cause disease, such as the bacilli of typhoid fever or dysentery; it must also be free from bacteria of fecal origin, such at B. coli. In other words, the water must be free from poisonous substances, from infection, and even from contamination [with fecal matter]. Besides this, it must be practically clear, colorless, odorless, and reasonably free from objectionable chemical salts in solution and from microscopic organisms in suspension. Moreover, it must be well aerated. Color, turbidity, odor, dissolved salts, etc., may be permissible to a small degree without throwing the water outside of the definition of pure and wholesome waters.” (Whipple 1907)

A few years later, authors from the UK took up the task of defining the term based on chemical and bacterial constituents.

“Under the Public Health Act and Waterworks Clauses Act all water authorities are required to provide and keep in any waterworks invested in them a supply of ‘pure and wholesome’ water”… Wholesomeness…is purely a medical question, whilst purity must be physical and chemical. As a physically or chemically pure water does not occur in Nature, and has defied all efforts to obtain it, obviously it signifies ‘hygienically’ pure, that is, a water pleasing to the senses….

We are, therefore, of opinion that water taken from a properly protected river and submitted to a proper system of purification, if it is free from visible suspended matter, free from colour, odour, and taste, free from all bacteria of a type indicating the possible presence of disease-producing organisms,,,and contains no matter of mineral origin which in quality or quantity would render it dangerous to health, is a water which can be properly designated as ‘pure and wholesome.’ The same would apply to water from any other properly protected source, be it well, spring, or surface water….

Turbid waters, or waters containing visible suspended matter, need not be unwholesome, but they are not pure….

A water with any kind of odour should be considered as impure so long as it retains this odour….

A water with an objectionable taste would be decidedly impure, but there are numerous waters with a faint chalybeate [iron] taste, or with a salty flavour about which there might be differences of opinion.” (Thresh, Beale and Suckling 1933)

The article continues with some interesting but contradictory judgments about what was pure and what is wholesome. A new approach that defined safe drinking water was sorely needed to overcome the variations in narrative descriptions of pure and wholesome.

The Rise of Numerical Regulations

The term pure and wholesome had a lot of power 200 years ago. Even though it was not precisely defined, people thought that they knew what they were talking about. As time passed, the meaning of pure and wholesome changed. As shown above, the meaning changed as a direct result of our scientific and engineering progress. In the early part of the 20th century, regulation of safe drinking water took another step. The first U.S. numerical drinking water regulation was established in 1914 when the U.S. Surgeon General through the Department of the Treasury set numerical limits for bacteria in drinking water used in interstate commerce. In the years following, drinking water regulations were expanded to cover more contaminants and strict numerical limits.

The 1962 U.S. Public Health Service drinking water standards were the last ones established by the federal government that only applied to interstate common carriers. The 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act changed everything. The USEPA was ordered to set numerical standards and treatment techniques that ultimately applied to all community water systems in the U.S. through state regulation and primacy.

Thus the general concept of pure and wholesome decreased in importance over time, as we got smarter about the science of water quality. No one uses pure and wholesome anymore, right? Not so fast. The term is included in the California Safe Drinking Water Act and is probably embedded in a number of other state laws on drinking water. The current version of the Act states that water must be delivered that is pure, wholesome, healthful and potable. At a water conference in November 2013, a senior official of the California Department of Public Health, Drinking Water Program, stated that she found the requirement for pure and wholesome water useful because it covered situations that were not specifically mentioned in the numerical regulations. It gave her latitude to improve drinking water quality, and, yes, make the water more pure and wholesome.

A world body was convinced that the term had meaning for the development of requirements for safe drinking water. The author of an article placed in context the narrative and the quantitative requirements of water quality regulations especially with regard to the World Health Organization. “Standards for drinking water supplies were at the same time cast, and perhaps rather curiously so, in the linguistic terms of being required to be ‘pure’ and ‘wholesome’. They were further guided in quantitative terms by definitions of ‘approximate levels [of substance concentrations] above which trouble may arise’ (World Health Organization, 1970).” (Beck 1984)

Google Creates an Amazing Gizmo

The folks at Google have created an astonishingly useful tool called the Ngram Viewer. First you have to understand that Google has scanned over 5.2 million books from a large number of libraries. All of these books are keyword searchable which helped me enormously when I was researching The Chlorine Revolution. So, like all good data geeks, the Google folks created a database of over 1 trillion words (that’s trillion with a T) that were found in books from the year 1500 to 2008. Anyone can analyze this database using the Ngram Viewer created by Jon Orwant and Will Brockman. (Singer 2013)

The user can choose up to five words separated by commas or one phrase of up to five words (or any combination as long as you do not exceed 5) and a graph will be created showing how the word or phrase usage has changed over time. Linguists mostly use the viewer to study esoteric word usage that I certainly do not understand. My friend, Geoffrey Nunberg, finds it useful in his advanced linguistic research.

I wanted to find out how far back the term pure and wholesome was used in both British and American English. Information from both variations of the language would be related and helpful.

Figure 1 plots the relative usage of pure and wholesome from 1500 to 1800. By the way, the percent value plotted on the y-axis is the percent usage for that term compared to all other 3-word terms used in any particular year. The number of books scanned before 1800 is relatively small and care must be used in interpreting the graph. For example, it is not necessarily true that the first time that pure and wholesome is mentioned in a book is 1685 as noted on the graph. It is more likely that Google has not scanned any books covering this subject matter before that year.

Fig 1

Figure 1. Relative Usage of “pure and wholesome” in British and American English, 1500 to 1800. (Google 2013)

One of the earliest references to pure and wholesome water using information from this graph was from a medical advice book from 1759. The author uses the term in a manner that seems to indicate that he is quite familiar with its meaning and context.

“Boerhaave, in his elem[entary] chem[istry] [tome]…speaking of snow-water seems at first sight to contradict Hippocrates, and to affirm, that snow water is pure and wholesome.” (MacKenzie 1759)

For Google data between 1800 and 2000, Figure 2 shows that the usage of the term pure and wholesome was relatively high and consistent between 1800 and about 1910 except for an interesting bump that peaked in 1840. After 1910, the usage of pure and wholesome drops dramatically until it is little used (relatively speaking) in the year 2000.

Fig 2

Figure 2. Relative Usage of “pure and wholesome” and “pure and wholesome water” in British and American English, 1800 to 2000. (Google 2013)

Also plotted on the graph is the relative occurrence of the term “pure and wholesome water.” The overall term pure and wholesome was used to describe the desired quality of water, air, milk and food. The graph shows that the variation in the relative usage of the two phrases was equivalent over the period shown.

What about the bump? I can only speculate that the dramatic rise in usage of pure and wholesome was triggered by the first cholera pandemic that originated in the Ganges Valley of India and swept through Europe, England and the U.S. before dying out. Newspapers were filled with terrifying stories of the progress of the disease, which struck with fury in England and the U.S. in 1831-32. Successive pandemics plagued the world until the last one in the early 1890s, which was somewhat controlled by strict quarantine regulations. Given the obsession with this disease, it is not hard to imagine that book authors were writing about what was pure and wholesome between 1830 to 1850.

Figure 3 shows that the relative use of the word cholera in books started to drop after 1900, but interestingly, it shows a steady level of low relative usage until 2000. In other words, we are still writing books that mention cholera today. Just think about the disaster that is still unfolding in Haiti if you need a recent example. In some ways, problems with typhoid fever replaced those of cholera in the late 1800s and early 1900s with the peak being reached in 1915. Not surprisingly, mention of typhoid in books began to drop after that year due to the widespread implementation of filtration and chlorination of water supplies.

Fig 3

Figure 3. Relative Usage of “cholera” and “typhoid” in British and American English, 1800 to 2000. (Google 2013)

In reaction to the spectacular threats of cholera and typhoid fever, citizens and politicians alike demanded in the early 20th century that the safety of their drinking water be improved. The Chlorine Revolution is all about how the first use of chemical disinfection in drinking water eliminated the scourge of typhoid fever in the U.S. (McGuire 2013)

Figure 4 shows that while the relative usage of pure and wholesome water declined from 1910 until 2000, the relative usage of the term “water regulation” increased, beginning about 1900 with a significant increase in usage about 1925. These word-usage patterns may explain what we already know to be true—that specific drinking water regulations began to replace narrative use of the term pure and wholesome beginning in the early part of the 20th century.

Fig 4

Figure 4. Relative Usage of “pure and wholesome water” and “water regulations” in British and American English, 1800 to 2000. (Google 2013)

Conclusions

Pure and wholesome was first used to describe the quality of air, water, milk and food. To be designated as pure and wholesome, these substances had to meet the standards of the day as defined by the human senses. The description of a water as pure and wholesome was one of the first ways that people defined safe drinking water. As we developed analytical methods and an understanding of toxicology, our definition of safe drinking water expanded to include numerical limits placed on individual contaminants. In the U.S., the rise of drinking water regulations has generally replaced the terminology of pure and wholesome, but the term has not disappeared. As long as it is enshrined in legislation and regulation, we will continue to see this artifact of the past used as part of the definition of safe drinking water.

References:

  • Ainsworth, H. 1639. Annotations Upon the Five Books of Moses, the Book of the Psalmes, and the Song of Songs, or Canticles. London:M. Parsons, Song Chap. VII, 52.
  • “Albany Water Works.” 1815. The American Magazine. 1:5
  • Beck, M.B. 1984. “Topic of Public Interest–Water Quality.” J. R. Statist. Soc. A. 147:2 293-305.
  • Blake, N.M. 1956. Water for the Cities. Syracuse, NY:Syracuse University Press. 50.
  • Berenger, Charles Random de. 1828. “Reflections and appeals which have been presented to the official departments on the Game Laws, etc., the regulations for granting patents for inventions, and the means of securing large supplies of pure and wholesome water, being subjects of great national importance.” Bristol Selected Pamphlets. University of Bristol Library Stable. http://www.jstor.org/stable/60247206 (Accessed: November 24, 2013).
  • Daisy, Michael (ed.). no date. “Detroit Water and Sewerage Department:  The First 300 Years.” http://dwsd.org/downloads_n/about_dwsd/history/complete_history.pdf (Accessed November 23, 2013).
  • Google Books Ngram Viewer. https://books.google.com/ngrams (Accessed November 24, 2013).
  • Hill, J.W. 1915. “The Cincinnati Water Works.” Jour. AWWA. 2:1 42-60.
  • “Hemlock Lake.” http://www.cityofrochester.gov/article.aspx?id=8589936601 (Accessed November 23, 2013).
  • Islam Awakened Qur’an Index. 2013. http://www.islamawakened.com/quran/5/..%5C5%5C88%5Cdefault.htm (Accessed November 24, 2013).
  • Kemna, Adolph. 1905. “Purification of Water For Domestic Use—European Practice.” Transactions ASCE. 54:Part D 160.
  • Lipsius, Justus. 1584. His Second Book of Constancy. http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/lipsius2.htm (Accessed October 8, 2013).
  • 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. (Case Number 27/475-Z-45-314): 1–15. Jersey City, N.J.: Press Chronicle Co.
  • MacKenzie, J. 1759. The History of Health and the Art of Preserving It. Edinburgh:William Gordon 103.
  • Page, D., O’Leary, G., Boland, A., Clenaghan, C. and Crowe, M. 2002. “The Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland:  A Report for the Year 2001.” Environmental Protection Agency (Ireland). 98.
  • “Parashat Vayetze – No Tranquility for the Righteous.” Rav Meir Kahane and Binyamin Kahane Torah Blog. http://tzipordror.blogspot.com/2011_11_27_archive.html November 27, 2001. (Accessed November 24, 2013).
  • Porter, T. 1661. A Compleat Delineation and Description of the Several Regions & Countries in the Whole World;: Abridged & Comprised in a New Mapp Thereof; Supplied with Easy Rules and Directions, for the Benefit and Pleasure of the Reader. London:Robert Walton 18.
  • Sancta Missa. 1962. “Blessings of Places Not Designated for Sacred Purposes.” Missale Romanum. http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/books-1962/rituale-romanum/51-blessings-of-places-not-designated-for-sacred-purposes.html (Accessed October 8, 2013).
  • Singer, N. 2013. “In a Scoreboard of Words, a Cultural Guide.” The New York Times. December 8, 2013.
  • Stevens, Frederic W. 1908. In Chancery of New Jersey: Between the Mayor and Aldermen of Jersey City, Complainant, and Patrick H. Flynn and Jersey City Water Supply Co., Defendants; Opinion, May 1, 1908.
  • Thresh, J.C., Beale, J.F. and Suckling, E.V. 1933. The Examination Of Waters And Water Supplies. Philadelphia, PA:P. Blakiston’s Son & Co., Inc. 90-93.
  • Vile, J.R. 2003. Great American Judges:  An Encyclopedia. vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA:ABC-CLIO, Inc. 635.
  • Whintringham, C. 1718. A Treatise of Endemic Diseases: Wherein the Different Nature of Airs, Situations, Soils, Waters, Diet, &c. are Mechanically Explained and Accounted for. York, England:Grace White 87.
  • Whipple, G.C. 1907. The Value of Pure Water. New York:Wiley 2-4.
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Looking for 100 Mules

Intro 100 mules

by Michael J. McGuire

Why? Why would I be looking for mules? I have never even been up close and personal with a mule before. The artist Lauren Bon has created an “artistic action” involving 100 mules tied directly to water history that has intrigued me. As you will note soon, calling this an artistic action is a grand understatement.

For the City of Los Angeles, November 5, 2013, will mark the centennial of their water supply from the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Owens Valley. This is a very big deal. Water supplies for large and growing cities in the U.S. have fascinated authors and readers and have been the subject of many books, articles and, yes, movies:  “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

The Owens Valley water supply has been the source of pride and dismay for people in Southern California. By universal agreement, the water supply was acquired by deceit and trickery. The aqueduct and reservoirs built by hand and….mule power….are something to be proud of. How do we celebrate such a centennial event that carries so much baggage.

Lauren Bon has captured a dramatic way to unite the interests and conflicts of the City of Angels and the people in the Owens Valley—many of whom have never forgotten their lost birthright. She is leading a mule trek that left the intake of the aqueduct on October 18 and will arrive at the Cascades in the western San Fernando Valley on November 5. Lauren has been involved in the Owens Valley for many years. She has developed relationships with people and institutions in the valley through her artwork. There are a number of articles in Boom and on the website Artbound and there is a one-hour program on KCET that describes the art she is creating.

I write about water history and water quality and many of you know that I am particularly interested in the confluence of water and art. I was determined to learn all about this project and to explore what it could mean for Southern California. I also wanted to help spread the word within the water community so that this would not just be an art thing.

Through Twitter and Facebook (with friends and followers from the water field), I started a bit of a buzz about the project. Lauren’s group started a Facebook page called “One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct” and a Twitter handle @100mules appeared. But Lauren’s artistic action was something that I knew I had to see to properly experience.

Because of a number of personal scheduling issues, I could not make the intake start of the mule trek. I knew that I had a two-day window of October 25-26 to find them and track their progress. The problem was that there was no easy way to find where the 100 mules were. A graphic from one of the articles that showed their proposed trek on a Google Map satellite view was difficult to follow and had incorrect place names. There were some posts on the Facebook page that gave general information, but there was no indication of where to find them on any particular future day. I found this curious because one article stated that they hoped that people would “drop by camp.”

On October 25 and armed with a paper map (which I had not used in years) and some of the descriptions on-line, I was able to bracket their probable location along 15 miles of Highway 395, across from the China Lake Naval Weapons Station in the lower Owens Valley. I drove the 175 miles from Santa Monica passing from the lush coastal region, through the dry San Gabriel Mountains to the high desert and even drier Owens Valley.

Covered aqueduct with access structureI stopped along the way and found the Los Angeles Aqueduct in anonymous places alongside the road with only a thin blue squiggle on the map to guide me. There are no signs in the desert to mark its passage. You have to keep your eyes peeled for a break in the desert landscape and the concrete cover, which looks like an abandoned desert road. Sometimes you can see an access vault sticking a foot or so above the sandy soil.

I stood on the concrete cover in several locations thinking about what had been accomplished. Although, I could not hear rushing water, I knew that below that concrete cover was flowing the lifeblood of Los Angeles and the environmental legacy of the Owens Valley.

Camp in the desertIt was 4 pm by the time I got to the general area where I thought they might have set up camp. In the Rose Valley location, I knew that the Aqueduct is on the west side but not far from Highway 395. I drove much slower than the trucks barreling along at 75 mph scanning the desert terrain until I saw a small outpost in the middle of a huge swath of desert scrub. The dirt road leading to the camp was in pretty good shape, which was a good thing because my citified convertible had no business being out there.

I parked out of the way and approached two guys who looked like they might be in charge of something. I introduced myself and told them that I was interested in their journey and asked to see Lauren Bon. She was not in camp at the time, but they told me I could wander around and look at whatever I wanted to see. Frankly, they seemed a little surprised that someone had tracked them down in this godforsaken place.

Mules in CorralI made straight for the mule corrals. Heeding the warnings of the guys I talked with, I kept my distance. These are not furry, cuddly creatures that you feed a carrot out of your hand. But they are beautiful. My first impression was that these are noble animals. They are strong, sure-footed, reliable and capable of endless physical effort. As I watched them drink huge amounts of water, eat alfalfa, nip each other, dominate the weaker ones and even use their rear legs to deliver nasty kicks, I recalled that they can also be mean, cantankerous, difficult, and, yes, stubborn. Clearly, getting 100 mules to do the same thing day after day over 240 miles was a big effort.

During my wanderings through the camp, I was politely but firmly asked why I was there but two other people. Once again, they seemed surprised that I was visiting. When we got passed the polite preliminaries, they could not have been nicer. I got the real impression that this “drop by camp” thing was a bit more rare than I expected it would be. Perhaps as they get closer to Los Angeles, more folks will drop in to see this working community up close as I did.

General view of campIt is hard to do justice to the professional logistics of the camp by descriptions or even pictures. There was a kitchen wagon where the meals were prepared plus tables and chairs for 50 people who would be eating dinner soon after I left. Large tents provided the sleeping shelters and two kinds of water trucks were on site. One was obviously for wetting down the area to keep the dust under control and the other was for mule and human drinking water. There was also a trailer with the “necessaries” and showers. A large truck with bales of alfalfa rounded out the food and drink basis of the camp.

After taking a bunch of pictures, I left them to their desert camp and went to find a comfortable motel in Ridgecrest. Sorry, my days of sleeping on the ground are long over.

The next morning, I returned to my search for the mules. By 8 am, I knew that they were already on the trail but I was not sure how far they had gotten. I was told that everyone at camp rose at 3:30 am to get the mules fed, watered and saddled. The humans had their breakfast at 5:30 am and mules and humans were on the trail at first light.

I was looking for a dust cloud that would identify the mule train location, but I found the mules by the cars pulled alongside the highway. About seven cars were tracking the progress of the mules. Three of them were with the project, and the others were folks interested in what was going on. The project cars would jump ahead to a good place to take pictures and we would follow them. After the mules passed by, our caravan would jump ahead to the next dirt road that crossed their path. We leapfrogged along for a couple of hours until there was one obvious location to see them up close—Nine Mile Canyon.

At Nine Mile Canyon, I saw the artist at work. Lauren drove up in a minivan and started getting her team set up for the appearance of the mule train. The dirt road by the Aqueduct dipped down into the dry bed of Nine Mile Creek right next to a five foot diameter pipe that carried the aqueduct water over this natural barrier. It was a perfect photographic opportunity.

A truck appeared with a large storage container on the back and two little holes cut in the side. I knew from the KCET program that this was, in effect, a huge pinhole camera or more precisely, a camera obscura. She has been using the device to capture large images of the Owens Valley and the journey of her 100 mules. She positioned the truck in a location where the resulting picture would include the mules and the pipeline crossing the creek bed.

Lauren Bon at Nine Mile Canyon 102613Without much warning, the lead rider popped over the nearby rise and there they were. She started taking pictures and her staff took a bunch of pictures and video. The mule train never paused. One guy was racing around with a camera on a tripod. Lauren stood on the top of the pipeline taking all of it in. She seemed to enjoy the moment thoroughly especially after the mules started kicking up a huge dust cloud as they traversed the creek bed.

I was in awe. I appreciated the skill of the mule wranglers for keeping their charges in line and under control. Mules are not the easiest species of animal to be bent to the will of man. What the mule wranglers were doing looked like hard work to me. One of them joked that, heck, the trip was all “downhill,” and he had not seen any of the mules break a sweat so far. Well, I can tell you that the humans were breaking a sweat and their efforts were making an important statement.

I thought that they would stop for lunch but I was told that they ate lunch in the saddle. I could also see the riders gulping down bottle after bottle of water to keep hydrated.

Mules walking second dayAs they passed, I called out to the wranglers I had met the previous afternoon. Everyone answered with a cheery howdy and wasn’t this a beautiful day. Some folks like myself had gathered to cheer on the mules and a couple of groups called out to husbands and dads who were riding the mules. We all seemed like we were part of a community for a few minutes including the 100 mules plodding along. After the mules passed and the dust cloud blew away, Lauren supervised the packing up of the cameras and gear and jumped into her minivan for the next leg of the trip.

It was time for me to go. I had learned a lot over the past couple of days, and I had enjoyed the viewscapes. I have always been a big fan of desert landscapes. The beauty of the desert desolation is something special. I never get tired of it, although I must say that I usually view it from behind an air-conditioned windshield.

Rough Country

This is rough country. Trekking 240 miles with 100 mules is certainly a prodigious feat in this comfortable 21st century, but it only highlights the astonishing effort that it took to build the aqueduct one hundred years ago. The old pictures showing teams of dozens of mules pulling wagons with huge sections of pipe on them give some idea of the scale. But the pictures do not convey the heat, the cold, the danger, the desert winds, the dryness and the enormity of their work.

The builders of the Los Angeles Aqueduct were engaged in a mission and none of the physical barriers would stop them. Similarly, nothing will stop the 100 mules from reaching their destination on November 5. I hope that many Angelenos will see the mule train and have some appreciation for the enormous effort that it took in 1913 to bring them a water supply. I also hope that they will appreciate the determination of an artist to make this journey and to broadcast her vision with the help of 100 mules.

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What the heck does CCF mean?

Long Beach water bill

by Michael J. McGuire

I am not talking about the California Community Foundation, Cheetah Conservation Fund or Center for Children and Families. Hey, I write about water stuff.

A few thousand water utility employees and I know what CCF means, but the overwhelming majority of people who pay water bills in the U.S. have no idea. Let’s try an experiment. Pull out your last water bill (its buried in the to-be-paid pile somewhere). Look at the amount of water your household used in the last billing period (usually one or two months). Ah ha! It says that you used 7.2 or 10.4 or 22.6 CCF. Well, that doesn’t sound like much. (Some water bills convert your usage in CCF to gallons and even graph the last 12 months, which is helpful.)

Ok. I will clear up the frustration for you. CCF means hundreds of cubic feet. The “C” stands for centum. Is this ringing a bell? When you represent numbers as Roman numerals, “C” stands for…wait for the drum roll…one hundred! Hold on a minute, you say, I am being billed for water in Latin? Yep.

Actually CCF represents a combination of the Latin language and an English unit of measurement. I didn’t clear up your confusion did I? You must be asking, what genius started using this mosh pit of water usage?

A few days ago, I got involved in a Twitter exchange with @PeterGleick, @jfleck and @cfishman who expressed some confusion about the meaning of CCF. Actually, Peter knew what it meant but the other two guys who write about water for a living did not. If these guys are confused, how can a typical water-bill-payer know what is going on? How did we get in this mess?

It’s all about water metering. While individual meters were relatively expensive back then, the impetus to install them came from the huge amount of water waste that occurred when flat-rate charges were used. For example, you might be charged for water service based on the number of fireplaces you had. There was no incentive to conserve water so people would leave their taps on during the winter to prevent the pipes from freezing and bursting.

When a new centralized water supply system was installed in a city in the 1800s, everyone was thrilled. However, metering was not usually done in the beginning and the public became used to wasting water because there were no penalties. A crisis would be reached when it became necessary to expand the water system or seek a new supply because the original one that was supposed to last many decades was overtaxed. There are many articles in the early literature that emphasized water conservation (usually involving metering) instead of the huge capital investments to develop a new water supply and build a larger treatment plant.

Growth in percent meter use for selected cities 1875-1900One source stated that water meters became available as early as the 1850s in the US. Allen Hazen (usually known for his work in filtration) wrote a book about metering in which he stated that the earliest reliable meters were available in the 1870s. The early meters measured water use in either gallons or cubic feet. The attached graphic shows that metering for cities such as Fall River, MA; Yonkers, NY; Pawtucket, RI and Worcester, MA occurred during the late 1870s.

Measuring water use in gallons made sense of course, because everyone used that unit of measure for volume for a variety of liquids. The use of cubic feet to measure volume of water use is a little more obscure. Flow measurement in cubic feet per second has been a standard for centuries. An early mention of water usage being measured in cubic feet was in a letter to a customer that was printed in the September 1889 issue of the JNEWWA. Another early mention was in one-page article published in 1892 which related one water professional’s experience with a home water meter.

I suspect that cubic feet might have been preferred by some early meter manufacturers because it was a larger volume than gallons (each cubic foot is equivalent to 7.48 gallons) and the meter were notoriously inaccurate and imprecise. An error of a few cubic feet was not as big a deal as an error of dozens of gallons.

Allen Hazen was clearly frustrated with the dual reporting units for water use. In 1916, at a meeting of the Committee on Meter Rates for the New England Water Works Association, he requested a vote of the committee members present on which unit of measure should be used. The final tally was 17 in favor of cubic feet and 23 members who wanted to use gallons.

It is worth quoting a 1916 letter that Walter P. Schwabe sent to the NEWWA committee on meter rates that exemplified the reasons why gallons should be used. Many of the reasons are as true today as they were 97 years ago.

“I am convinced from experience that gallons in dealing with the consumer is the better unit to use. I find it much easier to talk with a customer on his water consumption in gallons than in cubic feet, and find the customers have greater confidence in meters and in our statements, as they can readily check up their meter readings and make tests themselves.

The public buys all liquid commodities by the gallon unit….Pumps, standpipes, etc., are all rated on gallon capacity…”

There is some evidence that the cubic foot was used by many utilities to keep the measuring and billing processes mysterious. Continuing to quote from Mr. Schwabe’s letter:

“The argument that commodities, such as gas and electricity, are measured in units that are foreign and not understood by the layman is no excuse for using such a unit (cubic feet) for the measurement of water when there is a better and commonly understood unit (gallons) that can be used.”

As noted in a recent Wikipedia article, natural gas is commonly sold in units of 100 cubic feet.

In a book published in 1906, rates using 100 cubic feet as the measure of water volume were explicitly listed. For the first 5,000 cubic feet, the rate for six months was $0.20 per 100 cu. ft.

In his book published in 1918, Allen Hazen stated the problem and his preference.

“Water is sold at meter rates either by the 100 (or 1000) cubic feet or by the 1000 U.S. gallons. Both units are in common use. In the early days of metering, the use of cubic feet predominated, and it seemed at one time as if this unit might be universally adopted. Recently, however, there has been a tendency to go back to the gallon.”

Analog meter faceThe real problem with changing over completely to gallons and not mentioning cubic feet at all is that many of the meters in people’s homes register in cubic feet. The analog meters with multiple dials (see accompanying image) are really confusing. If you take a close look at the face of the meter, some of the dials spin clockwise and other spin counter-clockwise. A whole bunch of trees have been killed printing brochures on how to read these complex analog readouts. Many customers want to match up what they are being billed for with what they can read for themselves. It would not work to bill in gallons but only have meters that register in cubic feet.

Some of these problems may be solved with the conversion from analog water meters to digital water meters that are read remotely. However, the local readout may be still be in gallons or cubic feet. Also, water rates have historically been in cubic feet for many utilities and minimum usage amounts can also be in this archaic terminology.

Why is any of this important? Water conservation has become a critical part of the water resources planning for U.S. water utilities. In other words, utilities are counting on a certain level of conservation in the future so that they do not have to build additional water supplies as the population grows. We should make it as easy as possible for the public to monitor their water use and adopt units that mean something to them so that conservation is encouraged. I doubt if saving one CCF is going to have a great impact on a household’s consciousness. Saving 14-55 gallon drums of water may make a bigger impression and encourage conservation.

To promote conservation, water utilities should make every effort to use gallons in their rate structures, meters, and bills. CCF should be relegated to the same historical dustbin that contains the velocity measurement of furlongs per fortnight.

Of course, maybe this is all moot since we will soon adopt the metric system for all our measurements and water will be measured and billed in cubic meters…. I wish. I am afraid this will not occur in my lifetime.

References:

Hazen, A. Meter Rates for Water Works. New York:John Wiley & Sons. 1918. 12.

“Report of Committee on Meter Rates.” Journal New England Water Works Association, 30:3 September 1916. 396-7.

Letter. Journal New England Water Works Association, 4:1 September 1889. 46.

Taylor, L.A. “An Experience with a Water-Meter.” Journal New England Water Works Association, 6:4 June 1892. 182.

Turneaure, F.E. and H.L. Russell. Public Water-Supplies. New York:John Wiley & Sons. 1906. 731.

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It’s All Hurricane Katrina’s Fault

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis. Credit: CDC.gov

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis. Credit: CDC.govby Michael J. McGuire

by Michael J. McGuire

Commentary:  Now I have heard everything. The death of the 4-year old boy in St. Bernard Parish is being linked to Hurricane Katrina. As related in a bunch of news articles recently, a Louisiana epidemiologist, who should know better, relates the growth of Naegleria fowleri in the Parish water system to the drop in chlorine caused by depopulation of the Parish after the storm. With less people using the water, the chlorine residual dropped due to longer detention times in the system, or so the story goes. The original story was written by Maggie Fox on the NBC News website on September 17, and the news item has now been picked up by multiple news outlets including CNN.

Hurricane Katrina happened over eight years ago. Is it possible that the water system folks did not notice that the chlorine residual had decreased over the past eight years? Also, in June 2011, a 20-year old man died of the same disease after using tap water in a neti pot to rinse his sinuses. Where did that man live? St. Bernard Parish.

0216 chlorine shortage picAn eight-year old hurricane did not cause this boy’s death. St. Bernard Parish officials knew that Naegleria fowleri was growing in their system two years ago. It is well known that the amoeba grows in water under low chlorine conditions. Water systems are required by law to measure chlorine residuals in their distribution systems. Could some action have been taken to increase the chlorine residual in the water system before this second death occurred? Interestingly, the Parish water utility is now shock chlorinating the system and taking steps to raise the chlorine residual.

I can tolerate some ridiculous speculation in news stories, but this one steps over the line.

References:

Fox, M. “Deadly brain amoeba in tap water may be tied to Katrina,” NBC News Health, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/deadly-brain-amoeba-drinking-water-may-be-tied-katrina-4B11186085 Accessed September 19, 2013.

“Improper use of neti pots linked to deaths,” UPI.com http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2011/12/18/Improper-use-of-neti-pots-linked-to-deaths/UPI-33181324252343/ Accessed September 19, 2013.

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What if I put it up my nose?

Put it up my nose Little Kid Jumping into a PoolBy Michael J. McGuire

Water utilities are required to provide drinking water that is safe for their customers to drink. But what about other uses of municipal water? Is a water utility responsible for ensuring the safety of water that is introduced into the nose?

Over the past couple of days, news stories have been covering the death of a 4-year old boy in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, who contracted Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) most likely by coming in contact with an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri. Officials from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that it is likely he was exposed while playing on a Slip ‘N Slide in his backyard where tap water was used as part of the fun.

It is only possible to contract PAM by taking water contaminated with Naegleria fowleri directly into the nose. Once the microbes are in the nasal area they can migrate to the olfactory bulbs and move directly into the brain. The disease is almost 100 percent fatal but, thankfully, its occurrence is rare.

What caught my attention was the title of the news item on the NBC News website:  “Deadly brain amoeba infects US tap water for the first time.” I knew that was not true. I was a consultant to a water utility in the Phoenix, Arizona, area in 2004 and 2005 that was peripherally involved in (and not responsible for) a tragic episode involving the amoeba in 2002.

On October 12 and 13, 2002, two 5-year old boys died of PAM within four hours of each other at two different Phoenix area hospitals. The boys and their families did not know each other. They had nothing in common—except their water supply from the Rose Valley Water Company. Both had been playing in different swimming pools filled with water from that small, private water utility. Also, in common was the fact that the water was not chlorinated…at all. Samples taken later from reservoirs and the distribution system of the water company were positive for Naegleria fowleri (the so-called “brain-eating amoeba”).

The investigation of this water utility uncovered some very disturbing information, but the most disturbing fact was that the water supply was not chlorinated. News reports of the recent case in St. Bernard Parish have stated that the water supply was poorly disinfected. Naegleria fowleri are known to infest and grow in warm water. Most of the deaths in the U.S., Australia and other countries resulted from people (mostly children) jumping into fresh water ponds or rivers in hot climates. But should children be cautioned against doing a cannonball in the local swimming pool that is filled with municipal water? The CDC thinks so. On the website explaining the problem with the amoeba is the statement: “Do not allow water to go up your nose or sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small hard plastic/blow up pools.”

Really? Let’s see if there is another possible solution to this problem since we are not going to keep water out of a kid’s nose. I know. PROPERLY DISINFECT THE TAP WATER AND KEEP IT DISINFECTED! Naegleria fowleri can be easily killed by chlorine, ozone, and UV light. A study at Arizona State University found that it was possible to find the amoeba in biofilms in distribution systems. Ok, that makes it a little more challenging, but an effective secondary disinfectant residual will kill any of the amoeba that escape from the biofilm into the bulk water phase. Control of biofilms by limiting nutrients and carbons sources that foster their growth is another good operational procedure.

So, does a water utility have to worry about a kid putting water up his nose? There is no question about it. They better be worried about this happening. A utility that operates in the U.S. Sunbelt that does not disinfect the water that it sends out to the public is risking another one of these heartbreaking tragedies.

References

Brown, A. et al. “Naegleria fowleri: Highly Fatal, But Rare.” presented to the 2012 Gatekeeper Regulatory Roundup Conference, Scottsdale, Arizona, April 3, 2012, http://www.epaz.org/userfiles/14-Naegleria%20Fowleri-%20A%20Brown-rev.pdf

CDC, “Naegleria fowleri and Public Drinking Water Systems,” http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/public-water-systems.html  Accessed September 17, 2013.

Fox, M. “Deadly Brain Amoeba Infects US Tap Water for the First Time.” NBC News, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/deadly-brain-amoeba-infects-first-us-drinking-water-system-8C11172643 Accessed September 17, 2013.

Wikipedia, “Naegleria fowleri.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naegleria_fowleri, Accessed September 17, 2013.

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The Best of 365 Daily Blogs

By Michael J. McGuire

One year ago today (September 1, 2012) I committed to posting daily articles on my other blog This Day in Water History. It turned into quite an effort–much more so that I ever thought. Along the way, I learned (along with you, dear readers) a lot about water history. Below, I have summarized some of the most informative posts from the past year. I hope that you enjoy them.

0907 John_SnowSeptember 7, 1854:  The St. James Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor was convinced by Dr. John Snow that the Broad Street pump was the source of a cholera epidemic in a London neighborhood.  The Board ordered the removal of the pump handle preventing a continuation of the epidemic.  Incredibly, public protests resulted in the replacement of the pump handle on September 26, 1855.

1908 Chlorine Treatment at Boonton ReservoirSeptember 26, 1908:  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. Dr. John L. Leal was responsible for this breakthrough in public health. Details of the facility planning and operation are included in The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.

1021 Rupert Blue 4th Surg Gen of USOctober 21, 1914:  The first numerical drinking water regulations in the U.S. were adopted. “On October 21, 1914, pursuant to the recommendation of the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service [Dr. Rupert Blue], the Treasury Department adopted the first standards for drinking water supplied to the public by any common carrier engaged in interstate commerce. These standards specified the maximum permissible limits of bacteriological impurity…

1030 Common CupOctober 30, 1912: 100th Anniversary of the Regulation Banning the Common Cup. At the turn of the 20th century, public health professionals were still struggling to incorporate the precepts of the germ theory into all of their protocols. The general population was even further behind and, in many cases, resisted the momentum for change. One popular custom during this period was the use of a single cup or dipper for a pail of water or water cooler aboard trains—the common cup. Disease transmission as a result of using a common cup in public places was a serious problem…

1126 Dr Ruth PatrickNovember 26, 1907: 105th Birthday of Dr. Ruth Patrick. “Dr. Ruth Myrtle Patrick (born November 26, 1907) is a botanist and limnologist specializing in diatoms and freshwater ecology, who developed ways to measure the health of freshwater ecosystems and established a number of research facilities. Dr. Patrick’s research in fossilized diatoms showed that the Great Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina was once a forest, which had been flooded by seawater. Similar research proved that the Great Salt Lake was not always a saline lake.

1203 Ellen Swallow RichardsDecember 3, 1842:  Ellen Swallow Richards was born. “Ellen Swallow Richards is perhaps best known as MIT’s first female graduate and instructor, but launching coeducation at the Institute is merely the first in a long list of her pioneering feats. The breadth and depth of her career are astounding; a 1910 tribute in La Follette’s Weekly Magazine professed that ‘when one attempts to tell of the enterprises, apart from her formal teaching, of which Mrs. Richards has been a part or the whole, he is lost in a bewildering maze.’ Authors and scholars have called her the founder of ecology, the first female environmental engineer, and the founder of home economics.

1216 Safe Drinking Water Act signed into lawDecember 16, 1974: Safe Drinking Water Act signed into law by President Ford.  “The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the principal federal law in the United States intended to ensure safe drinking water for the public. Pursuant to the act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set standards for drinking water quality and oversee all states, localities, and water suppliers who implement these standards.

1221 GW Fuller 1903  35 yrs oldDecember 21, 1868:  George Warren Fuller is born in Franklin, Massachusetts. George Warren Fuller was, quite simply, the greatest sanitary engineer of his time, and his time was long—lasting from 1895 to 1934.  In truth, we have not seen his like since.  How did he reach the pinnacle of his field?  What early influences led him on his path? There is a biography of Fuller on Wikipedia that I wrote which summarizes his life from a “neutral point of view.” The material below is taken in part from Chapter 7 of The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight To Save Lives. By design, it gives more of a personal flavor to his life.

0102 Breaking the DamJanuary 2, 1900:  On January 2, 1900, the City of Chicago opened up an earthen dam that isolated the Chicago Drainage Canal and forced the Chicago River to reverse its course and discharge into the Mississippi River 43 miles above the intake for the water supply of St. Louis, Missouri.(Hill 2000) The total travel distance for the sewage from its generation to St. Louis intake was about 357 miles.  Missouri sued Illinois to plug the connection to the Mississippi River, also called the Sanitary and Ship Canal, which they claimed was contaminating the St. Louis water supply and increasing the incidence of typhoid fever in that community.

0106 Harriette ChickJanuary 6, 1875:  Birth of Harriette Chick. “Dr. Dame Harriette Chick, DBE (6 January 1875 – 9 July 1977) was a notable British protein scientist and nutritionist. She developed the first relationship showing bacterial kill as a function of disinfectant concentration and contact time. She postulated that the microbial mortality would follow what in physical chemistry would be called ‘first-order kinetics’—that is, mortality vs time data plots as a straight line on a semi-logarithmic graph. In practice, her postulate was correct and the law works for all liquid disinfectants and for many sterilization processes (for example, Chick’s Law has evolved into what is now referred to as D-value in autoclave sterilization).

0122 arsenic US mapJanuary 22, 2001:  Final Rule for Arsenic in Drinking Water. “Today’s final rule revises the current Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) from 50 µg/L to 10 µg/L and sets a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of zero for arsenic in drinking water. In addition, this final rule also clarifies how compliance is demonstrated for many inorganic and organic contaminants in drinking water…. Both community water systems (CWSs) and non-transient, non-community water systems (NTNCWSs) will be required to reduce the arsenic concentration in their drinking water systems to 10 µg/L….

0206 Samuel S BaxterFebruary 6, 1905:  Birth of Samuel S. Baxter in Philadelphia. Sam Baxter was the long-time Commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department. With the exception of military service during World War II, Sam Baxter spent his entire life living and working in Philadelphia. He was an individual of exemplary ability, character, and charm. The roll of his accomplishments is long and enviable, but perhaps his most lasting and memorable legacy was his rare personal qualities. Sam Baxter was truly a public works “man for all seasons,” who, in the conduct of his professional and personal life, served as a paradigm for other engineer-administrators.

0210 PerrierFebruary 10, 1990:  New York Times headline– Perrier Recalls Its Water in U.S. After Benzene Is Found in Bottles. by George James “The company that made bottled mineral water chic is voluntarily recalling its entire inventory of Perrier from store shelves throughout the United States after tests showed the presence of the chemical benzene in a small sample of bottles. The impurity was discovered in North Carolina by county officials who so prized the purity of Perrier that they used it as a standard in tests of other water supplies.

0224 Pat MulroyFebruary 24, 1953:  Birth of Pat Mulroy. Patricia Mulroy is the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Her job is to make sure that Las Vegas and the surrounding metropolitan area has enough water, now and in the future. Because Las Vegas has one of the lowest priorities of water rights on the Colorado River, her tenure has been marked by some of the most innovative efforts to increase the region’s water supply and revolutionary ideas to conserve water. She has gone way beyond the usual approaches of low flow showerheads and low flush toilets. The Authority’s program to buy back turf grass in people’s yards at a price of up to two dollars a square foot has been called by some as a historic turning point in the war against municipal water over-use in the arid West.

0301 Crypto excystationMarch 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. One estimate puts the total cost of outbreak-associated illness as $96.2 million: $31.7 million in medical costs and $64.6 million in productivity losses.

0315 John_SnowMarch 15, 1813:  Birth of John Snow. Dr. John Snow (March 15, 1813–June 16, 1858) is famous for the Broad Street Pump episode but he accomplished so much more than that. He was first and foremost a physician who trained in England in the early part of the 19th century. He made significant contributions to the development of anesthesia and he is considered by many to be the Father of Modern Epidemiology. The story of Dr. John Snow and how he discovered the cause of a cholera epidemic in the Golden Square neighborhood of London in 1854 has reached almost mythical proportions in public health literature.  Three excellent books describe Snow’s life and the details of the Broad Street Pump incident. (Hempel 2007; Johnson 2006; Vinten-Johansen et al. 2003)

0329 AWWA foundedMarch 29, 1881:  AWWA founded. “On March 29, 1881, in Engineers’ Hall on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., 22 men representing water utilities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee founded the American Water Works Association. They adopted a constitution that stated the purpose of the association as being “for the exchange of information pertaining to the management of water-works, for the mutual advancement of consumers and water companies, and for the purpose of securing economy and uniformity in the operations of water-works.”

0419 History of NEWWA founding date-2April 19, 1882:  First meeting of the New England Water Works Association. In an informal meeting between Horace G. Holden, Superintendent of the Lowell MA works, Frank E. Hall, the Worcester Superintendent and Robert C. P. Coggeshall, the New Bedford Superintendent, a decision was made to pursue the idea of a New England organization. The first meeting was held at Young’s Hotel in Boston on April 19, 1882. Attending were representatives from the following communities:  From Massachusetts-Fitchburg, Springfield, Worcester, Fall River, Brockton, Plymouth, Lawrence, Cambridge, Lowell, Leominster, Malden, Medford, Salem, New Bedford; From Connecticut-New Haven; From Rhode Island-Pawtucket; From New Hampshire-Manchester.

Dr John Leal PVWC MuseumMay 5, 1858: 155th anniversary of the birth of John L. Leal, physician and water treatment expert who pioneered chlorine disinfection in the U.S. John L. Leal was not a physically imposing figure. Photographs of him show a man of average height and build with a kind face. Nothing in his appearance hinted at the steel spine and dogged courage that he possessed. There are many unsung heroes who contributed significantly to public health at the turn of the 20th century. John L. Leal is one of them and after reading this blog post, I think you will agree that he did more than most to save people’s lives.

0927 Rachel-CarsonMay 25, 1907:  Birth of Rachel Carson. Biologist and author of Silent Spring, The Sea Wind and other non-fiction work intended to improve the public understanding of science, Carson became a leading figure in the environmental movement before her death in 1964. Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people.

0607 Lead Copper RuleJune 7, 1991:  In 1991, EPA published the Lead and Copper Rule to minimize lead and copper in drinking water. The rule replaced the previous standard of 50 ppb, measured at the entry point to the distribution system. The rule established a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) of zero for lead in drinking water and a treatment technique to reduce corrosion within the distribution system….Lead and copper enter drinking water primarily through plumbing materials. Exposure to lead and copper may cause health problems ranging from stomach distress to brain damage. On June 7, 1991, EPA published a regulation to control lead and copper in drinking water. This regulation is known as the Lead and Copper Rule (also referred to as the LCR or 1991 Rule).

0610 Birth of Abel WolmanJune 10, 1892: Birth of Abel Wolman. Abel Wolman (June 10, 1892 – February 22, 1989) was an American inventor, scientist, professor and pioneer of modern sanitary engineering. Wolman taught for many years on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, where he established the Department of Sanitary Engineering in 1937. He served as the department’s chairman until his official retirement in 1962. Wolman became Editor of the American Water Works Association’s Journal AWWA in 1919 and was responsible for making it into a monthly publication in 1924. The Association presents the Abel Wolman Award of Excellence each year to recognize those whose careers in the water works industry exemplify vision, creativity, and excellent professional performance characteristic of Wolman’s long and productive career.

0202 Cleveland and Cuyahoga RiverJune 22, 1969The June 22, 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga is the “seminal” event in the history of water pollution control in America, helping to spur the growth of the environmental movement and the passage of national environmental legislation. “Never before had an image so thoroughly driven home the deteriorating plight of our nation’s waterways,” one environmental group explained on the fire’s thirtieth anniversary. “The burning river mobilized the nation and became a rallying point for passage of the Clean Water Act.” Despite its national importance as a symbol of environmental decline, the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga was a relatively minor story in Cleveland at the time.

0704 Chester AverillJuly 4, 1832:  Date of letter from Chester Averill (Professor of Chemistry, Union College) to the Mayor of Schenectady, New York during the middle of a cholera epidemic which praised the disinfecting properties of chloride of lime (chlorine).  The treatise quoted many learned men of the time who demonstrated that chloride of lime eliminated the spread of contagious diseases by attacking the miasmas associated with them.  The letter also made reference to the destruction of certain “viruses” that may have been responsible for transmission of the diseases.

0707 Defective towerJuly 7, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineer article. A Defective Water Tower. A water tank at Vermilion, S. D., which had for some time been known to be weak, fell a few weeks ago and the photograph of this shows very plainly the point of weakness. The tank was 20 feet in diameter and 16 feet high and rested upon a tower 100 feet high. As seen by the illustration, all of the legs or posts broke at one point; so readily, in fact, that the whole structure folded up like a jack-knife and the tank with its contents of water fell almost directly onto the center of the foundation. The tank itself remained intact until striking the ground, when it burst and was completely shattered.

0727 Bellevue Stratford HotelJuly 27, 1976:  Outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in Philadelphia. “On July 21, 1976, the American Legion opened its annual three-day convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On July 27, three days after the convention ended, Legionnaire Ray Brennan, a 61-year-old retired Air Force captain and an American Legion bookkeeper, died at his home of an apparent heart attack. Within a week, more than 130 people, mostly men, had been hospitalized, and 25 had died.

0814 Sewerage and HealthAugust 14, 1913: Municipal Journal article. Effect of Sewerage Upon Health. “Although nearly all intelligent people will to-day agree that there is great value in a comprehensive sewer system, it is not always easy to demonstrate in particular cases all the advantages gained by its installation. A system for the drainage of storm water in a city is not only a convenience but is a valuable asset because, by preventing damage from flooding in storms, it increases the value of property. In a system of sanitary sewers, the beneficial results are convenience in the disposal of household wastes, a saving in the expense of repeated emptying of cesspools, and above all the resulting improvement in the public health.

0816 Amoebic dysentery outbreak beginsAugust 16, 1933:  First day of amoebic dysentery outbreak at the Chicago World’s Fair. American Journal of Public Health editorial. The cause of the outbreak was sewage contamination of the drinking water at two hotels. in the City. It must be remembered that very few of these cases occurred in Chicago, two having been reported on August 16, the date which the authorities fixed as the beginning of the outbreak. Owing to the period of incubation, which has been fixed by several observers on epidemiological evidence as from 12 to 30 days for the majority of cases, and even longer for others, visitors had arrived home in Canada and various parts of the United States before being taken sick. Various diagnoses, such as appendicitis, colitis, ulcerative colitis, etc., were made. Up to January 24, 1934, 721 clinical cases of amebic dysentery in 206 cities have been found and traced to Chicago, in addition to which, 1,049 carriers have been found in Chicago. A total of 98 deaths were attributed to the outbreak.

0828 Allen HazenAugust 28, 1869: Birth of Allen Hazen. “Allen Hazen (1869–1930) was an expert in hydraulics, flood control, water purification and sewage treatment. His career extended from 1888 to 1930 and he is, perhaps, best known for his contributions to hydraulics with the Hazen-Williams equation. Hazen published some of the seminal works on sedimentation and filtration. He was President of the New England Water Works Association and Vice President of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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Peking Duck in Beijing

Peking duck in BeijingBy Michael J. McGuire

This trip to China is different. My first trip in May 2011 was as a spouse on an inspection of projects supported by the J. Paul Getty Trust with the Getty Conservation Council. The Council consists of leaders in the Los Angeles art collection community plus those senior officers of many of the important Los Angeles institutions. During the 2011 trip, we were inside the “Getty Bubble.” This was not a bad thing. It meant that every detail was planned by staff and professional guides to the nth degree. Nothing was left to chance. If there was a little bump in the road, several people turned to and fixed it. The downside was that we did not meet any Chinese folks.

We saw all of the major attractions (Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace Terracotta Warriors) while we moved with alacrity from hotel to bus to important venue. Speed was essential because we had lots to see. It was special in many ways including the access granted to our group. One that I will never forget was being allowed to walk through the maze of reconstructed Terracotta Warriors in Xian and peer into their intricately carved faces. All of the other tourists were behind the rope line.

On May 11, 2013, I landed at Beijing airport and was met by an undergraduate student of Yuefeng Xie’s—she asked me to call her Rachel. She said that she had only been studying English for four years but she was fluent and she knew a lot of slang—I guess exported American television is good for something. We chatted on the taxi ride into the city about her research and her career so far. She came from a small town but attended Shanghai University for the first three years before she transferred to Tsinghua University in Beijing. She was studying the ability of nanofiltration membranes to remove infinitesimal concentrations of PPCPs using LC/MS/MS. I am not going to explain all of that but, trust me, it is cutting edge research in the field of environmental engineering that would be the envy of any PhD candidate in the U.S. Like a lot of the students that Yuefeng Xie has, she was first in her class at Shanghai.

The Wenjin Hotel is terrific and is located on the southern edge of Tsinghua University. After a short rest, I met Yuefeng and his colleague, Professor Xiao-mao Wang and 9 of their students for some of the best roasted duck I have ever eaten. The restaurant was called Quanjude Roast Duck and is only a couple of blocks from the hotel. Rachel picked me up to make sure that I would not get lost walking to the restaurant. It was amusing and wonderful to see that this bright and talented young woman had absolutely no sense of direction. After we stepped out of the hotel entranced she was flummoxed. She consulted the map on her smartphone and looked around at the streets, but she still did not know north from south. Finally, she asked an old woman standing on a corner who directed us to the restaurant that was 50 feet away. It made me smile.

I was introduced to the bright, young faces around our huge round table, but as many of you know, I could not retain their names. No worries. I will be interacting with them individually throughout my trip. There were eight female and one male students—a mix of PhD, masters and undergraduate students. Everyone was very nice and I was offered the best parts of the various dishes brought to the table. Besides the excellent roast duck, there were 10 other fabulous dishes. Ok, I did not try the webs from ducks feet with a mustard sauce. However, I was offered and I ate the cheeks of a baked freshwater fish. Have you ever had fish cheeks? Delicious.

As I looked around the table at the restaurant, I felt strongly that I was looking at the future leaders of environmental engineering in China. Heady stuff. The young women seemed self assured and confident in their manner. I was somewhat surprised, but Yuefeng explained that these are the cream of the academic crop and they know it. It was really refreshing to interact with confident young people.

Back to the hotel and some needed sleep, but tomorrow I will be taken around to some of the less well-known but beautiful sites in the city. My goal is to see temples and Hutongs.

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Fourteen Days in China

Old Gate at Tsinghua University

Old Gate at Tsinghua University

By Michael J. McGuire

I find myself on an Air Canada jet on the first leg of my trip to China. How did I get here? Why am I going? I got here because I know a guy. Yuefeng Xie is a professor at Penn State, Harrisburg and we have known each other for over 20 years. I think we first met when we were both working on research to control disinfection byproducts in the early days of that effort. Many years ago, I visited him in Harrisburg and gave a seminar to his students on taste and odor control. Out of the blue, several months ago, he contacted me and asked if I would be interested in spending some time at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Uh, yeah!!!

In addition to his appointment at Penn State, Yuefeng is also an Adjunct Professor at Tsinghua University. He is responsible for recruiting U.S. drinking water professionals for lectures and student/professor interactions at the school. I agreed to go and thus started a process that has ended with me catching a 7 am flight this morning. I had heard about Tsinghua University over the years. Some call it the MIT of China. I looked up some statistics on the school and they have over 41,000 students and lots of academic departments. I will be interacting with the Institute for Drinking Water Safety.

tsinghua-universityI arrive in Beijing tomorrow, May 11, and after some helpful graduate students shepherd me from the airport to my hotel, I will be on my own until dinner. Sunday appears to be a day of touring Beijing with some students or junior faculty showing me around. In 2011, my wife and I toured China with a group from the J. Paul Getty Trust. I have seen most of the big sights in and around Beijing including the Great Wall. This trip I would like to explore a bit more off the beaten path. I brought a 17-pound Lonely Planet guidebook with me to study on the plane and pick out the road less traveled in Beijing.

I give two talks at Tsinghua University and I will have multiple opportunities to interact with students and faculty. That is what I really want to do on this trip. I have met a lot of students and some faculty from China while teaching at UCLA, but I want to meet them in their own environment and learn how they live and work.

After five days in Beijing, I begin a mad dash across China. Two cities, three universities and four presentations/seminars. In the middle of all of this, I have scheduled two days to enjoy the Li River and the Karst geology of southern China. Taking the slow boat (within China) from Guilin to Yangshuo is one of the top five things to do while touring this huge country. I have always wanted to do it. After the mad dash, I return to Beijing and Tsinghua University for a final seminar and then home.

I will post updates about my trip and let you know how book sales are going. Oh, right, I forgot to mention, this is also a book tour. Many of you know that The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives was recently published. I have been jetting around the U.S. for the past month giving talks and signing books. When I heard that I might be going to China, I thought that publicizing the book to 1.6 billion people might not be a bad strategy. We will see.

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Springtime in New Jersey

Blooming ForsythiaBy Michael J. McGuire

Many of you, dear readers, have been following my seven-year journey to first write, find a publisher and then promote my book, The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. The book was released on April 1, and 30 days later, there is much to report. My publisher, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) has been doing a lot of traditional marketing using their usual methods, but I knew that I would have to do some marketing on my own if I wanted the book to become known beyond the water community. I have focused on a two-pronged strategy for bringing the book to the attention of the reading public. First, I have created a fairly significant web/social media presence, which I will talk about in another blog later this month. Secondly, I have made a big effort to book speaking engagements to spread the word.

As of today, I have given talks on the book or had book signings at five locations. As noted on the linked table, I have 13 more to go. It has taken a lot of work and a lot of help from friends and colleagues to put together the speaking schedule. So far, some of the events have been successful and others not so much. However, there was no real way of knowing ahead of time what would work.

How do I gauge success for one of these events? All of the events so far have been successful in one way or another. A couple have been terrific in all categories. What I have been striving to do is get the word out to the water community (my target audience) but also to reach a broader audience of people who are interested in water and the history of technology.

I just returned from a trip to Pennsylvania, which was a big success. I spoke twice at the spring conference of Pennsylvania Section of AWWA. The conference was held in Hershey, PA, which is always a lot of fun to visit. Spring was busting out all over Pennsylvania—the forsythia was blooming, I could see dogwood blooming in the forests and I swear that I could see the tulip flowers opening before my eyes. Perhaps I should have titled this article “Springtime in Pennsylvania.”

My two talks at the conference were well received and I met some old friends who I had not seen in many years. I sold a few books, but that is not the main reason I am doing all of this. Just being there created a lot of buzz among the Pennsylvania water community, and many more people heard about the circumstances surrounding the first use of chlorine in a drinking water supply in the U.S. In truth, that is what I am trying to do—spread the word. Except for authors who sell millions of books, people rarely make much money selling the books they write. As one wise person said, “I could have made more money babysitting.”

The book launch party that I had at my house last Sunday was spectacular. Over 70 friends showed up. There was fruit, cheese and wine for the attendees. I read an abridged version of the first chapter of the book (see the video on YouTube). I sold a bunch of books. But, mostly this was a party to celebrate the official launch of the book and talk to old friends. Most of these friends were not part of the water community. Several of them bought books, and I have already heard that they are really enjoying the read. What more could an author ask? My water friends were there in force. Folks that I worked with at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and at McGuire Environmental Consultants, Inc. were well represented. Good fun.

It is next weekend and beyond that I am really excited about—four days of springtime in New Jersey. On Friday I fly to Newark, NJ for four whirlwind days of talks, signings and ceremonies. The main events in The Chlorine Revolution take place in northern New Jersey and I have planned a number of events to spread the word in that area. Saturday, May 4, I am speaking to the Passaic County Historical Society at Lambert Castle. As you might expect from the organization name, the attendees will be interested in the history of the area. Sunday, we will be unveiling a grave monument to Dr. John L. Leal who had been buried in an unmarked grave for 98 years. Some of his descendants will attend the event. Monday, I speak at a half-day seminar sponsored by the New Jersey Section of AWWA that will explore the importance of disinfection. Finally, on Tuesday, I will speak at the Passaic County Community College to a bunch of students interested in science and technology—my favorite audience.

Once again, I do not know how these events will turn out. I have done all of the footwork planning these talks. Now, I will just show up and do my best and try not to focus on any specific results. If nothing else, I will see a lot of blooming forsythia.

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