Discussion on Damage to Deep Wells by Sea Water

Discussion on Damage to Deep Wells by Sea Water

The Members of the American Water Works Association Consider an Address by Dr. Mason on the Subject— Variation in Salinity of Wells—Remedies Suggested

THURSDAY, JUNE 24 Evening Session, 8 o’Clock

(Continued from page 725)

ACTING CHAIRMAN CRAMER—If there is nothing further, we will pass to the next order of business on the program, which is a paper entitled ‘‘Damage to Deep Wells by Sea Water,” by Dr. William P. Mason.

Dr. Mason spoke extemporaneously on his subject.

PRESIDENT DAVIS—Gentlemen, the paper is open for discussion.

H. F. DUNHAM—There is one feature which I think was not closely touched upon, and that is the elevation of the sea water in its relation to the well. The Grant City wells referred to were put down under my direction, a considerable distance from the shore—about a half a mile—a test well was sunk to be used to determine the rate at which the sea water found its way to the wells that were in use, the point being that the Crystal Water Company at that time had their source of supply, and would be able to diminish somewhat the water taken from the Grant City, if it appeared that the test well some distance from the ocean began to show signs of salt water. Now this spot was at no great elevation, I think five or six feet above the normal level of the Atlantic, and it is well known that when heavy storms occur, the same washes up in great quantities, and the marshy sections may be land-locked, and that was not very far from the test well. Now, when something like that occurs, I think it might happen that the effect would be noticeable in the water taken from the well, because in sinking a well no very clearly defined stratum of clay was found. This mucky surface at the time topped a layer of sand and coarse material. I simply refer to this for the purpose of showing the elevation of the normal level of the sea, and sometimes at tidewater, and at a point where the well was sunk it might have an important bearing upon the matter under discussion. I would like to ask Professor Mason something about the bacteriological situation of these wells.

DR. MASON—THERE are no bacteriological examinations made in this matter—none whatever but you did not refer to this particularly, did you ?


DR. MASON—No. Well, you will have bacteria in wells even in deep wells, but, of course, not in any great quantities as in other water, but notwithstanding that, it contains bacteria, but so far as chromogenic varieties are concerned, there are such things to be found in deep waters.

WILLIAM CORE—I would like to refer to what is known to British engineers as the Eastborn case, of a well that after long years became charged with salt water from the sea. The case is important as that corporation tried to sequester the works of the Company which was supplying the water, but the water got so bad. that as Eastborn was a health resort, and the water so bad, there was quite a scandal. The cause of that was this : The company used a well a considerable distance from the sea, sunk into the limestone. This well supplied water free from chlorine for twenty years, and then suddenly the well became charged with chlorine, that is to say, the chlorine rose very fast. I think in a twelvemonth it rose from nothing to about twelve thousand parts per million, and the experts were somewhat at a loss to account for that. People naturally supposed that when the salt began to come it would come very slowly and increase very gradually. It was apparent that there was some kind of absorption action by which this sea water punctured this chalk strata, and the salt was absorbed and there was some kind of chlorolithic action by which the salt water was conveyed to the well. They attempted to get rid of it, but the salt remained and it does to this day, and I think they had to abandon the well, and the corporation lost before the Parliamentary Committee, which, I think, was largely due to men like the Duke of Devonshire, who was chairman of the Waterways Commission. A great deal of money was spent in this investigation, and I think the entire record appears in Hansard, and can be taken out if anybody wants to read about it. I suppose it would be about fifteen years ago.

DR. MASON—It never recovered?

MR. CORE—As far as I know it never recovered.

MR. METCALF-I have been very much interested in this talk by Dr. Mason, and it occurs to me to suggest one or two words of caution which I am sure he would voice with me, and that is, in regard to the establishment of a standard which must, of course, depend upon several things. Professor Mason was dealing with the condition where people were accustomed to water which was free from taste. I speak of this particularly because I remember a number of cases in this country where the practical limit has seemed to lie somewhere between three hundred and four hundred parts per million, up to which the company could go with apparent freedom from complaints, but when the amount increases materially above that, then it becomes necessary to further dilute the water in order to keep the degree of salinity down. In regard to the recovery of wells, I also know of some cases where the water increased in salinity from a very low figure to several hundred parts, and finally up to seven or eight or nine hundred parts per million. Take the situation at Tampa, for instance. It is my recollection that there they have found the salinity something like three hundred and fifty parts, if I am right, but, nevertheless, when it has been necessary, it has been possible for them to make use of water with considerable more salt in it, provided it could be diluted with other water. In other words, they had enough other water with a low salinity to keep the general average below that point, and also after leaving wells out of commission for, say, one or two years, it was found that the salinity had decreased—not disappeared, because I think there is a very lingering action and there must be a very slow recovery, and it, of course, depends upon the volume of water that is available. I take it too, that the records he cited in regard to the period of time required for the increase in salinity is vitally affected by the character of the draft. I also think you will find that in those cases where the period of increase in salinity to an objectionable point is a short one, it is due to the high sea level as compared with the one to which Mr. Dunham referred. Of course the great difficulty with an investigation of this sort is to get full data. Of course, in the early days, the necessity for this was not appreciated, and it materially increases the cost of the investigation.

DR. MASON—I was quite impressed with the variety of the resulting records. In some instances the damage to the well seemed to be very much faster than in other instances, and for no cause that I could lay my finger on, and it is pretty hard to get any rule to tie up to. I thought, however, that the risks were almost too great to take and for that reason I reported against the proposition.

MR. McFARLAND—In regard to some of the remarks of our friend there in regard to Tampa, I would say this : We have had a variety of experiences in the matter of salinity of water. We have one well that is used for a period of fifteen years. That well was constantly in use, sometimes it is pumped up by air and sometimes it is flowing from the natural head, which varies from twelve to seventeen feet above sea level. That well has varied in salinity. It started in with twenty-one, I think, and it has been up as high as six hundred and gone down again to less than a hundred, so there is no regularity about the well. Now, in that same district, you will find this fact. You put down one well, and you will find it has a very low salinity, and within seven hundred feet you put down another well, and you may get a two-thousand salinity, so there is no fixed rule for it in our district. We find if you let the well rest the salinity will be lowered, hut not in all cases. We find that two wells that are contiguous—very close together—that one will produce very good drinking water, and the other, at the same level, will produce brine. There is another thing to which our attention has been directed, and that is when you analyze the salt in these wells they do not analyze in the same proportion as sea water.

MR. METCALF—It might be of interest for the members to know, if the members want to do a little discussing, the fact that in Florida they have small sink-holes, and in some cases the cities or districts have used these sink-holes as a means for the disposal of their sewage, and I have wondered how long it will be before that pollution reaches the wells.

MR. HERING—Mr. Chairman. I am sorry that I came in late and did not hear Dr. Mason’s paper, but I did come in to, hear some of the remarks about it, one especially to which I would like to reply. He said that after wells had once been polluted and a large amount of salt had entered them, it was very difficult to have it disappear. Now, I spend my winters in Florida, in Miami, and they had a very disastrous experience there a year ago last winter. The water supply is a well supply, deep wells, and in some cases shallow wells, up to within twenty-five or thirty feet of the surface. A year ago last winter, as the city was growing very rapidly, and they did not have enough wells, they pumped hard on those wells and the consequence was that the pressure was such that it drew in the salt water from the coast, and the figures I think ran up to six or seven hundred, and the water was simply undrinkable. You could not use it for anything except washing or for street purposes. Now, last winter when I was down there again, the water was all right. You could not taste any salt in the water any more. The plant has completely recovered, and an analysis showed that the salt was down very low. I think a year ago it was up to six or seven hundred and this year it was down so low that you could not taste it. Now, the reason for this disaster was that they simply pumped too hard. The people wanted water and they did not have wells enough, and they pumped too hard and they pulled in the water from the ocean. However, there was some difficulty there with the pipe, a large supply line that was leaking very badly, and that was another reason why they had to pump so much more than was really necessary. Now, during the summer they repaired that pipe so they saved that leakage, and consequently, they did not have so much water to pump, and consequently they did not lower the depression and they did not pull in any salt water. I did not taste any salt in it at all.

DR. MASON—That is one of those cases—well, it is one of those cases. Take that Shetuckett case, for instance. They practically stopped it. You can see for yourselves that it was not anywhere near where it started. I may say that the more I have to do with water, the less I know about it.

MR. DUNHAM—I must apologize for taking up so much time, but I feel like protesting against the notion to advance the establishment of standards upon the strength of the peculiarities of peoples’ tastes. It happened in a middle-western city, about a year ago, that the superintendent of the water works instead of drinking from his own supply, drank from the town well, and he said it made him ill, and that led to an analysis of the water by a onetime member of this association, Professor Smith, of Beloit, and his report was sent to me, and as I remember it, there was about eighteen hundred parts of chlorine per million. I reached for the telephone and read the report to the State Board of Health, about twenty miles away, and the next morning the well was filled up, and for two or three weeks after that all the people who had been accustomed to taking water from the well for their daily use, were not only protesting, but they were angry, because that “Sweet water had been taken away” from them, and they could no longer have the use of it.

ACTING CHAIRMAN CRAMER—If there is no further discussion on Professor Mason’s paper, the next order on the program is a paper entitled “Cost-Plus Contracts in Water Works Construction” by G. W. Fuller. Mr. Fuller is not here, so we will consider the paper as read by its title, and pass on to the next paper. But before doing so, Mr. Leisen has a remark to make.

(Note—Excerpts from Mr. Fuller’s paper was published as the leading article in FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING of July 28.)

Two resolutions were here presented by Theodore Leisen, one expressive of thanks to John Murphy, Department Engineer, of Ottawa, for the presentation of his talk on frazil ice, and needle ice, and also to Doctor Gellert Alleman, for his report on “Some Aspects of Electrolysis,” and the other expressing the association’s deep appreciation of the untiring and highly successful efforts of Messrs. Hunter and Hutchinson, and all the members of the entertainment committee of Montreal, in providing for the pleasure and entertainment of the members and guests of the association, during their sojourn in this city. Both motions were unanimously adopted.

ACTING CHAIRMAN CRAMER—The next paper is a special one by Mr. G. W. Buckholtz. Is Mr. Buckholtz present : He is the Secretary of the General Contractors’ of America, and his paper is entitled “Standard Forms for Contracts.” I take pleasure in presenting to you Mr. G. W. Buckholtz.

MR. BUCKHOLTZ—As the hour is growing late I would suggest that the paper be read by its title, and passed on to the Journal. Is that acceptable, or what is the pleasure of the meeting?

F. D. MANVILLE—I move it be read by the title and passed on.

ACTING CHAIRMAN CRAMER—I think we ought to take the time ; we have not got anything else to do. I will ask Mr. Buckholtz to read his paper.

(Note—Excerpts from Mr. Buckholtz’s paper will be published later-EDITOR).

ACTING CHAIRMAN CRAMER—I take it a motion is in order for reference to the Executive Committee for action.

MR. GOODELL—You will recall that yesterday we authorized a Standards Committee. Now, in a protracted conversation and correspondence about that matter before it came up here, one of the things which was frequently mentioned was the fact that we were to receive these communications from the Associated General Contractors of America. You will recall that they brought it out first at St. Louis, where it was brought up by Mr. Grenfelter. Now, in my opinion, this paper should he received and it will go automatically to that Council for consideration, since this is a standard which is suggested, and they will be glad to appoint a committee to investigate the matter very carefully.

ACTING CHAIRMAN CRAMER—We will consider the paper received and passed on as suggested by Mr. Goodell. Are there any further remarks on this paper?

MR. LUSCOMBE—I believe that the form set forth there is an exceptionally good one, but it seems to me under present conditions of the abnormal costs, that there will be great difficulty in financing many contemplated improvements, because of the cost, which is not definitely fixed. Is there anybody here who knows how that could be handled. If so, I would be very glad to have that information.

SECRETARY DIVEN-I think the contractor will handle that by refusing to take any contracts under present conditions, except on the cost-plus basis. I don’t believe we should give out any contracts as far as the water works are concerned. I think we will do much better if we do our own contracts. I remember one instance where on opening bids for laying pipes, our estimate of the cost was a dollar and forty cents. We received bids all the way up to one dollar and eighty-four cents, and even to something over two dollars—I don’t remember the exact figures—and we finally opened one bid for a dollar and four cents, or eighty cents under the next highest bidder. The bid was submitted to me, and I recommended that it be thrown out. I told them they could not do good work for that money, but under the laws of the city, the contracts had to go to the lowest bidder. I said “Well, if there is any trouble, I want an extra allowance for inspectors to sec that the contract is carried out.” The contract was carried out and the contractors lost money, but they came in with a bill of “extras.” I considered them very carefully, until I came to the last one which was for a good round sum for “Unforesen Conditions.” I smiled when I read that. There was one clause in this contract which seemed rather broad, a good loophole for the contractor, and that was “Acts of God.” Most acts are “Acts of God” anyway. If it rains it is an “Act of God”; snow, water freezing of the ground too early, frost —they are all “Acts of God.” It seems to me that that is a big loophole for the contractor to get through. I am a little opposed to contracts dealing with low figures for good work, because you cannot get good work at a low figure, if the contractor can get out of it. Whether they did not know what they were doing, or did not understand their business, or whether they thought they could go to appeal or not, I do not know. I think they came out fifteen hundred dollars in the hole, hut the specifications were carried out to the letter. As I said, I asked for additional inspectors and we saw that the contract and specifications were carried out entirely.

ACTING CHAIRMAN CRAMER—The next matter on our program is a paper entitled “The War Burden of Water Works in the United States Continues,” by Mr. Leonard Metcalf.

MR. METCALF-I do not know if you want to take the time to listen to this paper tonight. It is only composed of six pages or so, but it is in print, and it will come out in the July issue of the Journal, and you cannot hurt my feelings if you do not want to hear it now.

MEMBERS—Go ahead and read it.

MR. METCALF-Very well, gentlemen, please yourself.

(Note—Excerpts from Mr. Metcalf’s paper, with a digest of the discussion, will appear in subsequent issues.-EDITOR.)

Warren, Ohio, to Purchase Private Plant

The city council of Warren, Ohio, has authorized Director of Service Ed. Praunberns to purchase from the Trumbull Public Service Company the latter’s water works at a cost of $687,500. At the same time the council adopted a second ordinance calling for the issuance of bonds for this amount to defray the expense of this purchase. The purchase of this private plant will in time have a bearing on the Mahoning Valley conservation plan. The council is waiting for the final report of Alexander Potter, consulting engineer, on his survey of the Mahoning watershed.

The manager of the Columbia, Tenn., Water & Light Company’s plant has stated that the company is losing money at the present rate and it is believed that an increase will be asked for. Members of the city council assert that the city has no right to change the rates under the franchise by which the company is operating.

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