The Brooklyn Water Supply System.

The Brooklyn Water Supply System.

The insufficiency of a growing city’s water supply is a question of moment, even though it may not so pertinently affect the present as the future. In the case of Brooklyn, N. Y., the margin between the actual consumption and the present supply has been growing so rapidly smaller and smaller that it is now alarmingly narrow. Mayor Chapin thus indicated it in a message to the common council last July: “The daily supply is 50,000,000 gallons; the daily demand is 49,800,000 gallons.”

The estimated capacity of the water-works when built was 20,000,000 New York gallons a day, or about 19,000,000 United States gallons. But the city has been making long strides in advance, the remarkable increase of numbers necessarily involving an increase of consumption to correspond. It was not long, therefore, before the water-works were insufficient to meet the increasing demands, and supplementary means had to be employed to swell their capacity.


But from the moment when the need of extending the works on a scale commensurate with the city’s growth and best interests was first perceived, every proposition to that end was persistently objected to until last year, when the projected extension now in progress was approved and duly authorized.

While this fight was going on, however, the demand for water was constantly increasing and had to be met. Thus, from time to time, the minimum daily supply of 20,000,000 gallons has been increased to a volume about three times as great.

This policy was principally exemplified in the construction of the Hempstead storage reservoir and the establishment of pumping stations, shown in the accompanying map (for which, as well as the illustration of the Milburn pumping station, we are indebted to The Brooklyn Eagle), both from open and driven wells, and such methods of procuring limited supplies along the line of the existing works.

The consumption of water has, however, been constantly growing greater from year to year than the increase of population. That is to say, that whereas thirty gallons daily per capita more than sufficed in the early history of the waterworks, the same is by no means the case at the present lime. In the report of Engineer McAlpineto the common council in 1852, treating of the water supply and the prospective growth of the city, the increase of population and the water supply are formulated. The latter was estimated on what was then considered the liberal basis of a per capita daily consumption of thirty gallons, as follows:

These calculations were virtually accurate only up to 1865, for after that year the anticipated ratio of increase of population was far from borne out by fact. In 1875 the population of Brooklyn was 494,000 instead of 735,454, as formulated in the above table. In that year, however, though the population was less by about 250,000 souls than was expected, the consumption of water was greater by 5,000,000 gallons than then anticipated, so it became apparent that the increase in per capita consumption early commenced to grow out of proportion to the increase of population.

This has been the fact, moreover, perhaps even more signally since that time. Two years may be cited as notable instances—1883 and 1885. In the former Brooklyn contained, in round numbers, 625,000 souls and required a daily supply of about 36,000,000 gallons of water, which, on a basis of thirty gallons per capita, would only have amounted to 18,750,000. In the latter year the average daily consumption was 43,414,270 gallons, and the population had not yet reached the limit where a thirty gallon per capita allowance would have satisfied it with 22,063,623 gallons per day. The fact, it is expected, will be still more greatly emphasized this year, as it is estimated that the average daily consumption for 1890 will be remarkably in excess of that of any preceding year.

It is thus conclusively shown that there has been a steady and extraordinary increase in the ratio of consumption over that of population, a result from causes not far to find—demand for water for manufacturing purposes, which perforce grows with the establishment of factories, and waste.

The first cause is not one to be deplored, since it is evidence of the city’s progress in material development. Regarding the second, however, a problem is presented to the water management which is seriously increasing in gravity and is practically impossible of solution except by the employment in each and every house of water meters, that is if the supply is not made abundant and economy in the use of water has to be enforced. Concerning the waste Chief Engineer Robert Van Buren says in his report for the year 1885 to the Commissioner of City Works: “It is difficult to check reckless waste of water without metering private houses. If people are made to pay for wasted water they will be more careful in its use and reduce their consumption, and yet I do not like to urge the meter system until the getting of an additional supply is made more difficult than it is at the present time.”

In his report for 1883, after noting that the maximum daily consumption for that year, as in other years generally, was reached in the winter season, he says:

“The large winter consumption is due almost entirely to the waste to prevent the pipes from freezing. Those whose houses are carelessly plumbed do not hesitate to turn on the faucets with full stream, though the smallest drip would answer the purpose just as well. This enormous waste is very serious, yet I no not see any way of materially checking it.”

It may be noticed here, parenthetically, that as a providential offset, as it were, to the waste being greatest in winter the water-works are then the most abundantly able to stand it, inasmuch as the ponds and streams generally fill before winter sets in. This extract from the report of the water purveyor, Peter Milne, Jr., will be read with interest:


The work of the inspectors of plumbing shows a slight decrease in the percentage of leaky apparatus detected during the year 1883, compared with similar inspections of the year 1882. From the majority of cases inspected facts are deduced showing that, unless the department had made the inspections and detected leaks, no effort by the landlord or tenant would have been made to repair or remedy the defects. The indifference on the part of water takers and consumers in regard to the question of waste will require constant inspection of premises until more effectual steps are taken to prevent it by applying a water meter to a’l service pipes supplying buildings. The moment a water consumer is aware of the fact that a water meter will determine the quantity of water used upon his premises he proceeds to check all waste of water by applying the best water saving devices that modern invention has produced. The question of to-day, therefore, is, shall the city compel the use of water saving devices, or prohibit the use of water wasting devices, by ordinance, or, as a final step, meter all service pipes and thus permit the consumer to determine his own course as to the use of water saving or water wasting apparatus? ****** The efficiency of this bureau in the matter of controlling local distribution is determined by the facts and figures submitted. I believe all that good judgment could dictate has been done to keep down the Figures of daily per capita consumption without resorting to what might be termed arbitrary or oppressive measures. The quantity of water daily wasted is, however, a serious question, and when we know, by the data taken from the results of our observation, that twenty-five per cent of the average daily consumption is to be charged to waste, there is certainly a valid reason why the question should be agitated and kept before the public in order to prepare it for the reception of the best device appertaining thereto and the consummation of the best plan to abridge waste.

Notwithstanding this great waste, however, a comparison with the daily water consumption of other large cities shows that Brooklyn is comparatively economical in this respect. Formulating the comparison it is as follows:

The daily per capita consumption for 1885 is further compared as follows:

Work on the Brooklyn water-works system was inaugurated on July 31, 1856, the legislature having passed a little more than a year before the act incorporating the Nassau Water Company, the object of which was to supply the city of Brooklyn with water from sources on the south side of Long Island. Upon the passage of the act, a mass meeting was held in the City Hall and arrangements effected for the taking of the amount of stock that had to be subscribed for before the city would grant a share of the money. Thereupon the common council voted to subscribe an amount not exceeding $1,300,000, issuing city bonds at six per cent for the purpose.

On December 4, 1858, water was let into the mains, and on the 16th day of the same month was first used to extinguish a Fire on the corner of Myrtle avenue and Schenck street.

The accomplishment of the purpose of the Nassau Water Company having been achieved, a petition to duly celebrate the event was presented to the common council. April 27, 1859, was appointed for the celebration and the sum of $10,000 in all appropriated for the purpose, but rain caused a postponement until the next day, when the occasion was celebrated by the firing of salutes by artillery, an imposing procession, speeches, dinners and a display of fireworks.

Previously the question of a water supply had been twice rejected by a vote of the people. Among the early plans was one providing for a well at the foot of Fort Greene, with an engine to throw the water to the top of the adjoining hill. The contest turned for a long time on the supply from wells with numerous engines, rather than upon the captured waters of the ponds and running streams. The much vexed question was finally decided with the utmost wisdom and foresight possible. These are the leading engineers to whom the city is indebted for the conception, execution and working of the plan of its water supply: John B. Jervis, 1851; William J. McAlpine, 1852; Ward B. Burnett, 1854, and Samuel McElroy, 1855.

But, notwithstanding the satisfactory yield hitherto of the present water shed, observation and experience teach that the growth of the city will soon outstrip its capacity. And Brooklyn has no greater or more pressing requirement to-day than the elaborate extension or duplication of her water-works, the prosecution of which important public work was commenced about two months ago, and the completion of which, it is expected, will be witnessed in two years and a half.

The plans for the new works provide for the extension of the aqueduct from Rockville Center, where it now terminates, to Massapequa lake, taking in the streams of Milburn, East Meadow, New Bridge, Ridgewood and Massapequa, a distance of about ten and a half miles. In making surveys for the conduit three different lines were considered. The one adopted is the shortest. It is also considered the best in case of still further extension beyond Massapequa, as such prolongation would have to be north of the railroad. Its location, also, adjoining the railroad, is another advantage it possesses over the other lines considered, since it will cause both the expenses of construction and those of maintenance and repair to be very sensibly diminished, in that all the supplies will be more easily delivered. Regarding the supply of which the new watershed will be capable, Assistant Engineer I. M. de Varona says in his report:

It was stated in the annual report for 1883 that a minimum supply of about 20,000,000 gallons could be expected from the proposed extension, and the gauging of the streams was also given and compared with the previous ones. It may be safely asserted now, especially in view of the large reserve furnished by the storage reservoir, that the probable supply, even confining ourselves to the present plan and taking only the five streams mentioned, will, as a minimum, rather exceed than fall short of the said 20,000,000 gallons, and that it may be considerably increased hereafter by taking in some of the small intermediate streams, of which there are several available * * * In fact, from the extent of watershed, it is apparent that a minimum estimate of 25,000,000 could not have been deemed unsafe. The lowest estimate of the area of this watershed is 75 square miles, the mean rainfall at Flatbush for forty years, from 1826 to 1865, was 42.89 inches, and the mean at the storage reservoir for the last five years was 40.35 inches, the minimum being 37.1. Reducing the area to 70 square miles and the yearly rainfall to only 36 inches, the average daily precipitation would be 16,000,000 cubic feet, and assuming that no more than 25 per cent of this amount were collected the resulting daily supply would exceed 4,000,000 cubic feet, or 30,000,000 United States gallons. The absolute necessity of preserving the wooded swamps, in order to prevent the falling off of the supply, has too often been made evident to require more than this passing notice here.

The extension has an estimated drainage area of 90 square miles, the region tapped being shown in the accompanying map. The illustration below it shows how the Milburn pumping station and outlying buildings will look.

In the engineer’s reports the points of the extension are detailed in nine sections. The work included in each section has been separately given to contractors to be finished in the specified uniform period of two years and a half, thus insuring the full completion in that time of the entire undertaking. Work was begun on the second, fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth sections about two months ago, and has just been started on the first and third sections.

The contract for the first section was awarded to Cranford & Valentine for $1,013,772. It comprises the furnishing, delivering and laying of the 48-inch delivery pipe from the proposed storage reservoir to the new pumping station at East New York, and also the 36-inch delivery pipe from the above mentioned reservoir to the present conduit, together with the building of the requisite culverts and the making of such alterations in existing structures as may be necessary to cause them to unite thoroughly in their service with the new order of things. The work embraced by it extends from the west side of the Frog Pond road to the new engine house at East New York. Approximately estimated, it will require 17,000 tons, counting the ton at 2240 pounds, of the 48-inch pipe, with 40 tons of special castings for same; 1180 tons of the 36-inch pipe, with 11 tons of special castings for same, and 4 and 2 tons respectively of 20 and 12-inch pipes. The magnitude of the contract is further shown by the length of the 48-inch pipe, which is by far the most extensive and expensive part of the undertaking, being 71,000 lineal feet, or about 13 1/2 miles. Running direct from the new reservoir to the present engine house, having no connection with the Hempstead reservoir or the present conduit, it is thus seen that the city will have two independent sources of distribution and, therefore, be virtually without liability of total deprivation of its water supply in case of an accident. The length of the 36-inch pipe will be 7700 lineal feet. This pipe will connect the new reservoir, which will have a capacity of about 400,000,000 gallons, with the existing conduit, the capacity of which had, until recently, never been adequately determined and was considerably underestimated. The new reservoir will, in a certain sense, therefore, be supplementary to the existing one at Hempstead. The contract, furthermore, includes all the corresponding work in the region it embraces.

The contract for the section which extends from the west side of the Frog Pond road to a point about 140 feet east of the east bank of Baldwin’s Pond, was awarded to Edward Freel for $762,678. The work it embraces consists in building the storage reservoir between the stations of Rockville Centre and Baldwin’s Pond and a portion of the adjoining pipe lines. The contract specifies the required capacity of the reservoir approximately at 414,000,000 gallons, and that the contractor is to build it with its gate chambers, pipe culvert and all the appurtenances complete. He is, furthermore, to furnish, deliver and lay all the pipes and special castings, combinedly aggregating 1131 tons of materials, for a 12-inch overflow and drain pipe, a 36-inch culvert pipe at Baldwin’s and portions of the 36-inch delivery pipe and of the 48-inch force main.

The third section extends from the point where the second ends to a point nearly opposite the centre of the proposed magnificent engine house at Milburn. The contract for the accomplishment of the work comprised in this section was awarded to John McNamee for $75,639. It calls for the furnishing, delivering and laying of all the pipe and special castings required for the 48-inch force main line and the building of four culverts for it, with their appurtenances complete. It will take 1396 tons of 48-inch pipe, 30 tons of special castings and 3 tons of 12-inch pipe. The 48-inch pipe will be 5250 lineal feet in length and the 36-inch pipe 100 feet.

The building of the engine house and two boiler houses, with their chimneys, for the pumping station at Milburn, as shown in the accompanying illustration, with all their appurtenances complete and all the incidental work whatever required to finish them comprise the work specified by the contract for the fourth section, which was awarded to John H. O’Rourke for $154,845.

The contract for the fifth section comprises the building of the pumping engines, with aggregate capacity of 34,000,000 gallons a clay, to go into the Milburn station, and was awarded to the M. T. Davidson Pump Company for $76,400.

The sixth section, which extends from the Milburn supply ponds and engine house pump well to the east end of the East Meadow dam, comprises, first, the excavating and building of the Milburn and East Meadow supply ponds, with their dams, embankments, waste weirs, gate houses, pipe lines and all other appurtenances complete, except the screens, gates valves and iron flooring for the gate houses, to be furnished by the city; secondly, the excavating and building of the pump well and pocket and the grading of the grounds around the same and the excavating and building of that portion of the conduit extending from the pump well to the east end of the East Meadow dam, with the necessary manholes, culverts, gate houses, pipe lines and all other appurtenances, excepting the screens, gates, valves, iron and glass cover for the pump well and pocket and iron flooring for the gate houses, which will be furnished by the city; and thirdly, the furnishing, delivering and laying the pipe and special castings for the pipe lines required in the first and second items, with all their appurtenances complete. This contract was awarded to John McNamee for $463,668.

The seventh and eighth sections are similar in details to the sixth. The seventh commences where the sixth stops and terminates at the west end of the Ridgewood dam. The work in this section comprises the Newbridge supply pond and the new conduit from the east end of the New Meadow dam to the west end of the Ridgewood dam, with the necessary waste weirs, gate houses, culverts, manholes, pipe lines, etc. The contract was awarded to Charles Hart for $392,724.20.

Cranford & Valentine were awarded the contract for the work in the eighth section, the consideration being $432,183. The section embraces the supply ponds of Ridgewood and Massapequa, and the conduit from the west end of the Ridgewood dam to Massapequa, where the projected extension of the water system terminates, with appurtenances similar to those enumerated in the preceding two contrrcts.

The contract for the ninth and last section has not yet been awarded, being shortly to be advertised. It will call for all the necessary valves, stopcocks, screens and iron work generally that the city will have to furnish, as specified in certain of the preceding contracts, and otherwise.

The land and water rights needed for the work, in all a little more than 2000 acres, have been purchased, with some exceptions, for a sum considerably below the $500,000 appropriation which was made for the purpose by the common council in 1885. These purchases, with the exceptions alluded to, include the land needed for the conduit line, reservoirs, pumping stations and all accessories of the works, and the streams, ponds and water rights, these being indispensable for immediate use, and swamp and wooded lands for the protection and support of the streams, which, though not of immediate necessity are, nevertheless, important for the designated purpose. Altogether the cost of the extension will not exceed $5,500,000. Regarding it Mayor Chapin said in his message last July:

The estimated cost of the proposed addition to the waterworks is $5,500,000. This will make the total cost of the Brooklyn water system $16,500,000. That this is not a large sum for so great a city to invest in that which concerns the health, life and prosperity of its citizens, is shown by the table of comparative costs annexed:

New York (present works and addition, estimated)…. $71,000,000

Philadelphia (several pumping stations were not built by Philadelphia, The city contemplates an addition)……………………………………… 15,000,000

Chicago……………………………………. 14,400,000

Boston…………………………………….. 21,600,000

St. Louis…………………………………… 31,900,000

Brooklyn (including addition)………………….. 16,500,000

In this connection these other quotations from the message can be profitably made:

The additional water-works and system will not increase the tax rate; the expenditure is met by the issue of water bonds under the law. The receipts from water rates in the past have been sufficient to meet the interest on the bonds issued for water construction, pay the expenses of water maintenance and show a large annual balance as a contribution to the special sinking fund to meet the bonds when due, in addition to amounts required by existing law to be raised in the tax levy. The annual balance has run from over $100,000 to $300,000. This fact warrants the belief that in the future the water revenue will continue to pay for the water maintenance and the interest on the water bonds, and also show a large annual balance as a contribution to the sinking fund to meet the principal of the bonds.

A large part of the credit for the successful carrying out of the plan for the Brooklyn water-works extension will be due to Chief Engineer Van Buren, who, since his appointment in 1877, has worked persistently and thoroughly to this end, aided most materially and loyally by Assistant Engineer L. M. de Varona, upon whose recommendation the line of the extension was adopted.

The accompanying illustration of a pumping engine represents one of the type which will be erected at the Milburn pumping station by the M. T. Davidson Pump Company of New York. There will be four of these, of the triple expansion type, one of a capacity of 4,000,000 gallons daily, and three of 10,000,000 gallons capacity each,

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