HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH WATER SUPPLY

HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH WATER SUPPLY

One may confidently venture the opinion that whoever reads this attempt to epitomize the history of Pittsburg’s water supply systems, from the date of the earliest records to the present day, will agree that the superintendency of the Bureau of Water requires a mastery of intricate detail, of diverse scientific problems and assiduous labor. Possibly, San Francisco alone, topographically considered, presents a similar configuration of surface to provide difficulties in methodical supply. But the city on the Golden Gate receives its water from a private company. This chronicle will endeavor to trace the development of the water supply from 1802, when there were but a few more than 1,565 residents, the number stated by the census of 1800, and when bids were asked for digging four wells. Eleven years later it will be noted that a proposal was made to furnish water for three cents a barrel. It is foreign to the purpose of this article to indulge in any figures regarding the present or possible cost of water, for there are too many factors which must fairly be considered. But three cents a barrel would be 75 cents a 1,000 gallons, and water even now costs in Pittsburg only 18 cents for 25 barrels. What it might be reduced to by general use of meters can be passed over. With surprising fullness an old transcript found in the Bureau of Water furnishes interesting details and dates of these pioneer efforts to install pumps and reservoirs in the city. The newspapers are revealed as being then vigorously on the job of criticising delays and imperfections in every attempt to improve the system. As early as 1846 there began an agitation for filtered water. With the beginning of 1908 it enjoyed its partial consummak tion. proving that popular demand, like the battle for freedom, bequeathed from bleeding sire to son. though baffled oft, is ever won. The victory for the Northside is dated for 1913. Whether to begin with the ancient history and in chronological order follow the periods of progress forward or to state the present dimensions of the supply system and let it gradualy taper backward to its vanishing point on the threshold of the nineteenth century is a mere question of procedure. Perhaps the dwindle backward plan will be preferable. To-day Pittsburg has $30,000,060 invested in its water system. The bureau employs from 750 to 850 persons, graded from laborers to scientists. Today there are pumped in old Pittsburg 100,000,000 gallons of water: in old Allegheny, 35.000,000. The various pumping stations are now daily raising the following quantities, the figures meaning the actual totals, and not the capacity of the pumps, which is much higher: Ross station. 100,000,000: Brilliant. 95,000,000: Herron Hill, 12,000,000: Garfield. 1.250,000: Lincoln, 750,000: South Twenty-ninth street. 5, 000,000: TTill station (held in reserve), On theNorthside?—Montrose station, 35,000,000: Howard street, 9,000,000: Troy Hill, 1,000,000: Greentree, 333,000; River avenue (reserve.)

There are under construction the Mission street station, to cost $307,000. to take the place of the South Twenty-ninth street station, and the Aspinwall station, to permit the discarding of the Montrose pumping station, which now supplies a large portion of Allegheny. The great basins of the citv are: Highland No. 1. holding 120,000,000: Highland No. 2, 120, 000,000: Herron Hill, 10,000,000: two Garfield tanks, 250.000 gallons each: the Lincoln tank, holding 225,000: Bedford basin. 2,500,000; Birmingham, 3,000,000: three Alington tanks, 900,000 apiece; Troy Hill, 7,000,000; two Montgomery and two Lafayette tanks 225,000 each: two Greentree tanks, 150,000. There is under design the Cabbage Hill reservoir for receiving and storage purposes, to cost $900,000. and to hold 150 000,000 The present plan of the Bureau of Water is to consolidate the Pittsburg and Allegheny svstems by laying a pipe, or two pipes, across the Allegheny River capable of conveying 50,000,000 gallons daily. One of the most interesting features of the supply system upon which perhaps few have ever clearly reflected is the enforced division of the city into “pressure districts,” or zones. By inspection of the map, one will detect an irregularity of boundary lines for these several districts, which causes even an artistic gerrymander to blush for shame. The celebrated shoestring district of Mississippi is fairly eclipsed by the serpentine paths of the demarking lines made necessary by Pittsburg’s topography. In the pipes used for supplying water for domestic purposes the pressure must not exceed 150 pounds and it must rise as high at least as 50. Beyond the 150-pound gauge there would be a shriek for a plumber. So the Water Bureau must accommodate the pressure from the various basins to meet this contour of the city surface running from zero to 600 feet above river level. This requirement accounts for the large number of stations, reservoirs and tanks. There are 14 of these pressure districts: Highland No. 2 supplies the territory along the rivers, downtown, and the main Soutliside litoral. Highland No. 1 supplies East Liberty, part of Lawrenceville. Oakland and outer Fifth avenue. Herron Hill attends to the Herron Hill district, and the water is carried across the lowlands to supply the Squirrel Hill district. The Garfield district supplies that district and a small section along Heberton street near Highland Park. The Lincoln tank supplies the higher part of Lincoln avenue district. The Bedford basin attends to that district. The Arlington feeds the pipes throughout the higher parts of “the Southside. The Trov Hill, lower Allegheny. The Spring TTill and Montgomery tank furnish water to that region where Allegheny starts up the hill. When the still higher plateau is encountered the Lafayette tanks provide the liquid quota. The Greentree tank supplies the extreme high district out Perrysville avenue. Tn Sheraden and Esplen residents obtain water from the Montana and Sheraden tanks. The city owns the pipe lines, but buys the water. The Pennsylvania Water Company, a private concern, vet supplies portions of the old Thirty-seventh. Fortieth and Forty-first wards, now the Thirteenth ward, and in the extreme East End. In some of the recently annexed territory the South Pittsburg Water Company exacts its tolls. It would be useless to follow the entire history of the filtration branch of this water history. The Aspinwall beds now cover 56 acres of sand though, of course, the total area is much larger. It was in January. 1908, when the first operations began and bv September of that year all “Peninsular” Pittsburg, that is the portion between the rivers, enjoved filtered water. In February, 1909, purified water was extended to the Southside. Tn January; 1913. the boon is promised unto old Allegheny, who has stood patiently waiting, like the mills of the gods. The Filtration Commission, which finally stood the brunt of all the wire-drawn controversy as to kinds of filtration, bond issues and engineering at plant, was: Robert Piteairn. chairman: George L. Holliday. Henry P. Ford. Samuel D. Warmcastle, Dr. J. R. Vincent. Or. W. J. Holland, E. M. Bigelow. Tames M. Bailey, Or. Guy McCandless and William Flinn.

Something of the past annals of the evolution of the water supply may now be extracted from the records. It may prove more, inter esting to many than even the contemplation of the modern methods of the daily deluge piped throughout Pittsburg. The tentative offer to pump water for 3 cents a barrel may occasion a slight quirk of the lips. But water is much cheaper by barrel now. It will be noted that three attempts were made early to give the people pure drinking water. In August, 1802, William Cristy. Town Clerk, called for proposals for four public wells, which were to be dug to a depth of not less than 47 feet on Market street. Bids were also asked for pumps for these wells and the wells and pumps were to be constructed and furnished wherever the Burgesses so advised. Those individuals who had already dug wells of their own were to be compensated, if they were assigned or dedicated to public use. For the purposes of this work a tax of $497.96 was levied, of which $170 had been collected by December 17 of that year, but history does not tell further of the success of this project. Tn December, 1813, a notice was issued by one George Evans that, having been urged by many citizens to arrange for supplying water to the City of Pittsburg by steam power, he desired to inform the people that he was ready to pump water sufficiently high to run to any part of the town and to supply consumers at a price of 3 cents per barrel. In January, 1818, William B. Foster and William Hamilton petitioned Councils for permission to furnish the inhabitants of the city with water. Neither project, however, has left any trace of its success. The first definite and extensive step for the building of water works for the city was attempted in February, 1824, when Thomas Fairman, Christopher Magee. Harman Denny, John Carson and William Hays were appointed a committee of Conn oils, to receive subscriptions for the loan of $50,000. and in 1826 the mayor was authorized to negotiate a loan of $40,000 to defray the expenses of the waterworks construction. In June of that year. Councils authorized the pur chase of a reservoir site on Grant’s Hill and an engine house site at the foot of Cecil Alley, on the Allegheny River.

Tn December, 1826, contracts were let for a reservoir, to hold 1,000,000 gallons, and which had a flow line at 80 feet above the surround-? ing streets, and for a steam pumping engine, capable of raising to this reservoir 600,000 gallons in 12 hours. Two years later, or in September. 1828, the water committee of Councils informed the public that the works were ready to furnish river water to all residents and business houses requiring it. There were, however, many imperfections in the system, which caused serious complaint and criticism, especially during the winter months of 1828-29, and many were ready to abandon the project and the use of the water. By May of the next spring, the works were in good working order and the pumping engine was used about 21 hours a week, in order to supply water to those who desired it. The total cost of this work, up to 1832, was $111,086.52, and in May of this year the demand for water was so great that a second pumping engine was installed.

Tn July, 1838, after considerable discussion and reconnoissance for a new basin, the newspapers complained that the work was not being prosecuted with dispatch. Later, upon August 8. 1838, a site on the corner of Prospect and Elm streets was authorized, and in Feb ruary, 1839, work was begun on this basin, which had a bottom 160 feet above the river. Tn 1843 the pumping station was moved further up the river to the corner of Etna street and Duqucsne way. The construction work proceeded slowly, but in 1847 it was in such a state that the demands of the city for water were satisfied.

In 1817 the average daily consumption was about 1,600,000 gallons, and as early as 1816, it is evident that some attention was paid to the amount of consumption, because experiments were made at the engine house on Etna street, to determine a proper size for the ferrules. so that one larger than required should not be used, as waste of water would be thus caused. On October 25, 1847. is found the first reference to the purification of he supply, when one James H. Laning of Cincinnati made a proposition before Common Council in regard to a water filter, and also for a smoke consumer. Tn June. 1848, it was reported by the Water Committee of Councils that the estimated cost of an additional system, to supply the higher part of the city, would be $50,000. Councils appropriated $30,000 for this purpose, and authority was given to construct a new basin and pumping house at the old basin, at which to supply water to the newer basin. 222 feet higher. The new reservoir was completed in 1850, after some considerable difficulty, be cause it was built over old mine passages and required being blocked, or built UP, to support the weight of the basin. This basin has always gone by the name of the Bedford Basin. The bottom was lined with two to three feet of clay. The sides were lined with clay, two feet thick at the base. and upon this clay there was said six inches of gravel and on this two inches of sharp sand. On top of the sand there were used 288,000 brick, which made the paved sides. The additional engine for pump ing was ready for use by November 1, 1850. In April, 1852. on accuont of a high flood, the engine room at the river was inundated, and the supply from the reservoir was permitted to be drawn upon only mornings and evenings In 1853, attention was again paid to the amount of waste, and a water meter was purchased, to be placed on the line serving the rolling mills railroad depots, and gas works, so that an equitable assessment could be made. In 1855 it was proposed to extend the reservoir mains, and money for this purpose was appropriated by the Councils, but the high water prevented the work, and the money was used for extending distributing mains from the reservoirs to Center avenue. Some thought was given in 1855 to the purity of the water supply, due to the fact that no circulation of the water in the basin was possible and it was felt that, on this account, it was not as suitable for drinking purposes as it would other wise he. In order to remedy this, the basin was allowed to run dry once in two weeks, but was not continued because of the danger on account of fire. During the winter of 185556, which was very severe, a number of pipes were frozen, and one of the 24-inch mains on O’Hara street was broken. The next year even the ground was colder, freezing to a depth of 4 feet, and by order of Councils, mains were ordered to he lowered to a depth of 5 feet. In 1857 an improved water tax was established, according to the number of faucets and the people living in a given dwelling.

In 1863 there were many complaints of impure water. In December, 1864. the upper basin gave way at the mouth of one of the old coal pits and eight feet of water was lost, and no more than live feet was kept after that time in the upper basin until the following spring In 1867 the superintendent of the waterworks reported to the Councils that tile existing pumping plant should be abandoned as soon as possible, as the sewage and filth thrown into the river above the supply pipe was sufficient to contaminate the water so much that it was not fit for public use. In 1870 J. S. Lowry was awarded the contract to install engines to pump water from the lower basin on Bedford avenue to the higher one of the same avenue. During the summer of this year, the old works failed to supply the upper parts of the city, and a smaller pump was connected to the rising main leading to the basin and was used to help in furnishing a modern supply to more elevated parts of the city. The new pumping engine, however, was completed in December. At this time also, a sub-station was erected at Forty-fifth street, and was used to supply the Lawrenceville district. In 1871 the winter was again severe that many of the gates and pipes were frozen. The Water Commissioners, who were appointed in 1868 to investigate the subject of the new supply, recommended the loca tinn of a new pumping station above Negley’s Run, at the present site now known as the Brilliant pumping station, and also to construct a reservoir on Brilliant Hill, the basin of water now known as Lake Carnegie. It was also recommended that a higher basin be built at the end of Highland avenue extension, at what is now known as Highland reservoir. This basin was to be connected with a high service reservoir on Herron Hill by means of a large main to, and a pumping station on Center avenue. The estimated cost of this work was $2,294,478. The commission also had under consideration the furnishing of a supply from the Monongahela River, but as the supply front this source would he limited they did not recommend its adoption. In 1871 this Water Commission was authorized by Councils to construct the new works as recommended. Work, however, proceeded slowly, and it was not until November 18, 1879. that the water was turned into the pipes on Highland avenue. The first attempt, however, was somewhat of a failure, owing to the discovery of leaks, due to careless pipe laying; but on February 20 the water “alet into the mains on Highland avenue. and thus to those on Penn avenue and Butler street eastward on Penn avenue to the city line at Brushton; to all side lines front Penn avenue and thus south of Penn avenue to Fith avenue. On February 24 the main on Penn avenue was extended to Twenty-third street, to supply all districts east of Thirtythird and along Butler street. The new pipe lines conveying water from the higher reservoir caused considerable greater pressure in the pipes already located in the street, and thus occasioned many breaks. On March 5, 1879, water was turned into the pipes of the old city lines along Penn avenue, from Thirtythird street and on Twelfth street to the Point, thus affording relief to the works at Twelfth and Etna streets. It is interesting to note that in 1882 the leaks in the embankment of the new reservoir were such that the superintendent recommended that French drains be constructed to carry off the water, as the claims for damages might cost more than the drains Upon its completion in 1880, the Herron Hill pumping station was placed in operation and water from this basin was supplied to all the higher parts of the city. In 1884, the lower works at Twelfth and Etna streets were abandoned, and the lower Bedford works were closed in 1893, but not finally abandoned until 1895. In 1894 a pumping station was erected at Evaline street, called Garfield, together with the steel tank of 250,000 gallons capacty. In 1805 Lincoln pumping station was placed at the corner of Park avenue and Dearborn street. In 1807 the contract was awarded for the Highland Reservoir No. 2 to be constructed at Highland Park, about 100 feet lower than the No. 1 reservoir. This reservoir, after considerable delay in the,prosecution of the work, has been in use since the early part of 1903.

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