NECESSITY FOR STATE SUPERVISION OF PUBLIC WATER SUPPLIES
State supervision of water works plants should not be nominal duty performed in a perfunctory manner. It should be a very close supervision of the operation of the plant.
In many States there is a lack of law giving the necessary specific authority to the State to control water supplies and even when such law exists in some instances the State officials depend upon the local authorities for results, with few inspections and very little actual control of the water supplies.
Obviously, in large cities like New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia, which are rich enough to employ efficient operators for their plants and competent bacteriologists to make daily analyses, there is no great necessity for close State supervision, but even here the inspection by State authorities has a salutary effect in keeping up the maximum efficiency. It is in the smaller cities and towns, however, that State supervision and control will have its greatest effect. In order to show the crying need of State inspection and control of water plants, certain instances which came under my personal observation may be cited.
The first thought in municipalities when they get away from the “old oaken bucket” is to secure a supply which shall be adequate in quantity. The next public demand is probably for a clear water if the water is taken from a muddy river. It is only in the last few years that the demand for safe water has been made the paramount issue in public water supplies.
Improvement in water supplies which were grossly polluted with sewage has been effected frequently to eliminate the taste of manufacturing wastes. Gradually municipal officials are beginning to recognize the insistent public demand for safe water. Even now, however, with the lessons of our past epidemics before it is a difficult task to convince many municipal officials that money should be spent to purify a polluted water supply which is adequate in quantity and reasonably clear in appearance. It is obvious that the Water Board or Water Works Superintendent must consider the economic side of this question, but they should be just as much interested in furnishing a safe water every day in the year as in the heat efficiency developed from their fuel.
The greatest delusion in water supply history is the dream that Great Lakes water needs no purification. Practically without exception the cities taking water from the Great Lakes should install purification plants to protect their citizens, yet many of them persist in furnishing polluted water without treatment of any kind. It is not alone in the use of untreated water that disaster occurs. Many cities have plants which are structurally imperfect or inefficiently operated.
Ashland, Wisconsin, is a notorious instance of a small city with a slow sand filter plant and a typhoid fever rate of 315 per 100,000 in 1910. In spite of their lesson the typhoid rate since 1910 has averaged 72 deaths per 100,000. Inquiring as to the improvement following the calamity which befell this city in 1910, elicited the following from the Health Officer:
“Your letter wanting to know of the changes in our water works system is at hand. Since 1910 a new filter has been installed. This was in the winter of 1911-1912. In the winter of 1912-1913 the intake pipe was taken up and moved and it was shortened about 900 feet. In the early winter of 1912 a chlorine plant was installed and they have been using it ever since, except when the taste and smell of the water became so noticeable, then it would be cut out for a few days until the taste and smell had disappeared.
United States Health Service. Director of Field Work, International Joint Commission.
*Paper read at the Illinois Water Supply Association.
“These are all the changes that have been made that I know of and if there is anything more that I can help you with or anything that you want to know that needs looking into, I will be very glad to do it for you.”
The “new filter plant” said to have been installed in the winter of 1911 and 1912 did not prevent the winter and spring outbreak, January to April, 1913. The “chlorine plant” which is said to have been in use since 1912, “except when the taste and smell became so noticeable,” seems to have been equally ineffective in reducing Ashland’s typhoid fever rate.
The idea seems to be prevalent that when a public water supply is finally conceded to be grossly polluted that the installation of a filter plant settles the problem. It is supposed to be a miraculous fool-proof mechanism which will operate itself even while the operator sleeps or goes to dinner. I know several excellent gravity mechanical filtet plants, and perhaps this type more nearly approaches the fool-proof than any other which are operated by a kind of a promoted coalpasser or stoker. The only attempt at bacteriologic control is the sending of a sample to the State capital or the State university once or twice a year.
One plant in a small New York town was inspected by one of my Canadian colleagues. It was a mechanical filter plant with alum as a coagulant. The man in charge was using no alum. He said it looked to him as if the alum was unnecessary as the water was pretty good anyway.
Perhaps the least fool-proof of any of the purification processes is the administration ot hypoclorite of lime. The dosage of the chemical to be effective without imparting offensive taste to the water requires very careful and skilful attention. Yet commonly there has been an effort to dose the water by set rule of so many pounds per million gallons regardless of the fluctuations in the raw water. The result is that in order to avoid taste in times of low organic content the dose is fixed too low to be effective when the pollution and organic matter increases at certain seasons due to floods or other causes. Cleveland installed hypochlorite and in 1912 the first year of operation had the lowest typhoid rate in the history of the city. In 1913 the tendency to tamper with and cut down the dose became more manifest and there was a sharp rise in typhoid in Cleveland following the spring freshet in the Cuyahoga River. In one of the smaller Michigan cities T asked the stoker in charge how much “hypo” he was using. He said they had been using about 6 pounds per million gallons, but the Mayor telephoned him that be could taste the “hypo” and to cut it down. He said he guessed he was using about 4 pounds per million gallons now.
It is to correct these defects that State control is necessary. Those States whir’ have no law covering this should lose no time in securing such a law. Where, sufficient law exists the function of supervision and control should he exercised by the State with frequent inspections and definite rules and regulations covering the needs of each municipality. Defects in construction or operation could be thus corrected and efficient maintenance and operation secured. Daily bacteriologic control is a necessity and should if possible be carried out in the plant itself.
me greatest oostaoe to proper operation and control of plants has been the difficulty of securing the right man to place in oharge of the plant. 1 he best type ot man for this position is a graduate m sanitary engineering. He will not only be conversant with the mechanical details of the plant, but will be able to adjust his chemicals according to the constitutents and needs of the raw water. Most important of all, he will be able to make daily bacteriological examinations to determine the efficiency of purification. Nearly all the disasters due to sewage polluted water supplies which have occurred were due to lack of daily bacteriological knowledge of the public supply or the inefficient operation of plants by unskilled men. Personally, I believe the employment of such a graduate is economy even in small cities. I can conceive, however, of cases where it is impossible for economic reasons to pay the necessary salary. In these cases local men must be employed, and trained to do the work. Here the State Board of Health, or as in Illinois the State Water Survey, will find a very useful function. The State authorities could supervise the installation of a small, inexpensive laboratory equipment in small plants and give instruction to the local man in making the necessary water examinations. Whenever possible, however, young graduates of sanitary engineering schools should be employed; and such men are well worth their salary, considering the saving in the economical adjustment of chemicals and fuel costs made possible by intelligent supervision. The greatest asset to be credited to skilled operation is the saving ot human life effected, and the satisfaction ot knowing that safe water is being furnished every day.