The New $3,000,000 Water Supply Project at Waterbury
How That City Is Executing Well Planned Engineering Work to Increase Water Facilities—Tunnelling Through Hills for Good Supply
ONE of the largest water works projects ever attempted in the New England States is described in the following article:
One of the once-in-a-lifetime feats of a relatively small American city, that of planning and executing a genuine engineering job without the aid of the omnipresent city contractor, has been successfully demonstrated by the city of Waterbury, Conn. A verification awaits those who would journey across the Connecticut hills to the Shepaug River valley, where the city of Waterbury is maintaining a miniature city, and an army of workmen employed on a new seven-mile tunnel, which, when completed, will supply this city with water from the Shepaug watersheds. The actual boring of the tunnel was begun a little over two years ago. Since that time over one and one-fifth miles of solid granite has been pierced and an experienced, well equipped crew is battling its way toward completion of the project at the rate of 14 feet a day. This is considered excellent progress in view of the obstacles Dame Nature has placed in the path of the steel drills and human ingenuity. On the opposite side of the hill in the town of Bantam another project was recently started with the same purpose, in order to speed up the work. Incidently the men engaged in this tunnel construction are boring both ends in order to some day meet in the center of the hill.
Tunnels Started to Determine Working Problems
The city of Waterbury did not undertake the task of building the water way with a view of convincing skeptics of its engineering prowess. There was a deeper and more economic motive behind the undertaking. And that was to determine for itself the actual working problems to be encountered in order that contractors, who will later be given the work, may draft closer estimates with a possible saving of thousands of dollars to the city of Waterbury. It is the plan of the city engineering department to start other tunnels under the remaining hills between Shepaug and Waterbury to learn what awaits the diggers who will eventually connect the drifts into a continuous duct.
Had Inception in Private Gift of Land
The project as a means of increasing the water supply of the city of Waterbury had its inception with the acceptance by the city in December, 1919, of a gift from the H. S. Chase Company in accordance with the plans and intentions of the late Henry S. Chase, millionaire manufacturer, of a tract of some 700 acres of land with water rights in a watershed located in the valley of the Shepaug River in the towns of Goshen, Warren and Litchfield. The late H. S. Chase, impressed with the vital importance of his native city securing an ample supply of pure water for future needs, had for several years prior to his death, been acquiring land and water rights in this watershed with the ultimate intention of presenting the same to the city when he had secured what he thought was essential to make the plan practicable.
Looking Ahead for Future Supply
When City Engineer R. A. Cairns, of Waterbury, was first approached on the subject he said that a growing community like Waterbury should take a long look ahead and take such measures that no insuperable difficulties would be encountered when from time to time an increase in the water supply became urgent. Mr. Cairns said that 20 years prior to the time the Chase gift was tendered the city he had urged securing water rights in new territory but the officials at that time took no action, they maintaining that the system would be ample for the city for two generations.
City Engineer Cairns said that the first valley west of the Bantam River, which had been closed to Waterbury by legislation, was the one drained by the Shepaug and that opportunities exist there for the erection of dams and the creation of storage reservoirs at points where there would be no serious damage to property rights or interference with much used highways.
Committee Has Matter in Charge
Shortly after the acceptance of the watershed and rights by the city, the city council passed a resolution authorizing the president of the board to appoint a committee to determine a feasible place for the construction of a new reservoir with power. The committee appointed and known as the additional water supply commission consisted of Mayor William H. Sandland, City Engineer R. A. Cairns, Commissioner of Public Works J. C. Sherwood, Comptroller E. E. Parker and several members of the city council. This committee was appointed in March, 1920, and served intact until January 1, 1922, when a new city administration brought about several changes in the commission made by the present mayor of Waterbury, Francis P. Guilfoile. Throughout the year 1920, surveyors were constantly at work both on the location of property in the Shepaug valley and running trial lines for an aqueduct. Levels were run from the West Branch valley where the city’s present reservoirs arc located, verifying the existence of sufficient fall to enable the Shepaug water to be delivered by gravity into proposed reservoir No. 3. Additional land was purchased in Warren and Litchfield and drilling was started along the line to a possible tunnel from Shepaug to the West Branch.
Shepaug Location Decided Upon
In the Shepaug valley investigations were made with the object of finding a suitable location for a dam with the result that a location was decided upon a little over a mile beyond Woodville.
In 1921, many negotiations for new land in the valley was carried on and much of the time of the city’s corporation council and city engineer was occupied in opposing certain measures introduced in the general assembly at Hartford, which were adverse to the city of Waterbury’s interests in the Shepaug project. In January, 1921, an agreement was entered into between the city and the town of Warren whereby a portion of the Cornwall-Washington turnpike was discontinued for a consideration in money and the building of a substitute road and the agreement to maintain for 25 years that part of the turnpike between the Washington town line and the City Hill Road.
In the Shepaug valley, ten miles below the town of Litchfield, and two miles from the nearest highway, the gang of diggers, muckers and dynamiters have spent three severe winters in developing the new project, the biggest undertaking ever attempted by any Connecticut city.
Location of Temporary Working Plant
Where the new waterway goes into the hill are situated the powder house, the wash room and the fan room. Below these stand the power house, where the two storage battery engines are kept, the machine shop and boiler room. Around the latter are grouped the compressed air chamber, the generator building and the pumping station.
Several hundred feet to one side, and slightly above this group, are to be found the administration buildings, with the hospital and sleeping quarters of the engineers. Below these” structures, on the opposite side of the Shepaug River, are the quarters of the workmen, the kitchen and the mess hall. The tunnel entrance is propped with heavy beams and planks to prevent a landside from the steep hill above, and timbering continues inward for several hundred feet, where soft stone and earth warn the engineers of the dangers if left unguarded. The tunnel itself is eight feet in height and seven and onehalf feet wide extending under the hill for a distance of over one mile.
Large Tunnel Constructed for Ease of Work
The water rushing through this completed duct will rise to a point not over three feet from the floor, it is estimated, but its size in necessary for economical reasons. The engineers have figured it cheaper to construct a tunnel wherein men could work freely than to build a narrow passage which would cramp movement and hamper speed. After the timber lining is passed and the soft roof is left behind, one comes upon a passage completely walled with solid granite. Projections are encountered on each side at intervals of seven feet. These slope backward and widen indicating the progress made by each shift of runners. The saw tooth walling is caused by steel drills which must be brought inward several inches each time a new “cut” is made. These drills are worked outward to maintain an average width of the tunnel.
On the floors of the passage is a narrow gauge track on which runs a string of “muck cars” hauled by a powerful storage battery locomotive. This train goes to the very head of the tunnel where it is loaded with debris loosened by powder blasts. Along the walls of the tunnel are hung pipe lines carrying compressed air and water used in the operation of the steel drills. Overhead are strung hundreds of electric lights, the power for which is generated at the mouth of the tunnel and a draft pipe which supplies air to the workmen and carries off noxious fumes. At intervals of 500 feet a shallow niche is made for the squad which sets off the blast.
Men in Good Health in Spite of Great Depth
The drilling and charging and firing the dynamite which rocks the base of the mountain each time the switch is thrown calls for the nerviest men on the job. The excavators experience no fear, no uneasiness and the foreman of the gang is often called upon to admonish the more reckless who would calmly sit behind a boulder while the load is being fired. At the head of the tunnel two tempered steel drills are eating their way into the hard granite. Despite the danger attending each blast in the tunnel, there have been no accidents reported by the engineers since the starting of the project. Working 325 feet under the ground apparently has no ill effects on the diggers as illness among the men has been of only a slight nature.
Engineers working under the supervision of City Engineer Cairns say that they have overcome practically all the obstacles usually found in mountain tunneling. This was made possible by the introduction of the latest type of machinery and the employment of only skilled labor. There are but few seams along the roof of the tunnel, removing the water hazards which most tunnelers fear, and the solid rock obviates the necessity of timbering the walls to prevent cave-ins.
All Damage Claims Settled by City
All claims for damages on account of the diversion of water rights have been settled by the city of Waterbury. The first request from the Connecticut Light and Power Company was settled some time ago and an agreement was recently reached between the city and the Ousatonic Water Power Company.
There are about six more miles to cut through before the waterway will be free to deliver water to Waterbury. The length of time required to complete the project cannot be figured at the present time nor can the exact expense entailed be estimated. The nearest amount in round figures will be in the neighborhood of $3,000,000. To April 24, this year, the cost has been $682,676.42. With the completion of the project, Waterbury will have the largest and best water system municipally owned in New England. The total expense will be taken care of through the issuance of bonds.