The Syracuse Water-Works Question.


The Syracuse Water-Works Question.

THE condemnation proceedings by the city of Syracuse in the matter of the Syracuse Water Company, which have occupied the attention of the commission appointed by the Supreme Court of New York State for several months, were finally submitted to them for their decision on Saturday, September 5. The case in brief is, as was tersely and aptly stated by Martin A. Knapp, counsel for the Syracuse Water Company, in his able argument closing the case, as follows: “The city of Syracuse seeks by this proceeding to acquire the plant and property, the rights and privileges, the franchise and good will, in short, the entire company. It is the most extreme and arbitrary exercise of power which the legislature can confer, the taking of private property against the will of the owner. This proceeding therefore is the sentence of death against this corporation, and you, gentlemen, are the appraisers to say how much of an estate it shall leave to its creditors and stockholders.”

The property of the Syracuse Water Company is comprised of a franchise to supply the city of Syracuse with water ; certain water rights on Onondaga creek and Cardiff valley, and a storage reservoir of 140,000,000 gallons capacity, built on Onondaga hill, taking its supply from a watershed nearly two square miles in extent and giving an average daily flow of 1,000,000 gallons. There are besides a distributing reservoir of 6,000,000 gallons capacity, obtaining its supply from a series of springs through a stone conduit about a mile in length, and one distributing reservoir of a capacity of 80,000,000 gallons. This last mentioned reservoir is the direct feeder to the system of distribution of the city. Besides taking its supply from the storage reservoir it is supplied from a pumping station of 15,000,000 gallons capacity, located on Onondaga creek, through a thirty-inch cast-iron force main.

The storage reservoir is 434 feet above the Erie canal level, while the large distributing reservoir is no feet above the same level. The small distributing reservoir is located at a higher level than the large one, and its office, besides that of receiving the water of the springs, is to break the pressure of the water between the altitude of the storage reservoir and the large distributing reservoir.

The principal watershed, comprising 117 square miles, is the source of supply to Onondaga creek,

The waters of Onondaga creek pass, principally, through a limestone foundation, thus rendering the water hard, some sixteen degrees. It is asserted, however, that farther down towards Cardiff valley it is very much softer. The waters of the storage are soft, being principally surface drainage. The distribution plant comprised about forty-three miles of mains (including force main), ten miles of it being cement pipe and the remainder cast-iron pipe. The plant also included 186 gate valves, one 30-inch check valve, 3438 lead pipe services to curb line, and 389 water meters and connections. The proportion of sizes of water mains relatively was fair, with the exception of an excess of fourinch pipe, which error appears to be not an uncommon feature in many of the water-works throughout the country which private companies have organized and constructed.

The expert engineers employed by the Syracuse Water Company, Messrs. Babcock, Sherman and Milne, gave it as their opinion that the plant, exclusive of the real estate and franchise was worth $850,000. The expert engineers employed by the city, Messrs. Tubbs, E. L. Sweet, Bracket and Tidd, and Mr. Hill, city engineer, gave it as their testimony that the plant, exclusive of the real estate, ten miles of cement pipe and the pumping plant, was worth $326,000. They also deducted from the value of the works a large sum for deterioration of distribution plant and a further sum for throwing out of the present plan about two-thirds of distribution, which they in their judgment thought proper to do in connection with the scheme of adopting a new source of supply, namely, a thirty-six inch castiron conduit connecting with Skaneateles lake fifteen miles distant from the city. This privilege was granted by act of the legislature, and was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the decision of which was afterwards reversed by the Court of Appeals. The terms of this act give the city the right to draw a daily supply of water, not exceeding 15,000,000 gallons, from the lake.

The testimony on both sides showed a radical difference of opinion as to the value of the reservoirs, cost of cast-iron pipe and cost of laying the same. The testimony rendered by the officers of the company proved that no material progress in the way of extension of distribution of plant had been made for six years. It was apparent from the character of much of the testimony on the side of the city that the water company had been and was still under the ban of popular prejudice. The city had felt for a long time (several years) that it should possess the franchise and property of the company. Public meetings were held, the press was arrayed against the company, the cry of “ bad dog ” became “ mad dog ” and matters grew worse. It is doubtful if any water company under similar circumstances would even manifest a disposition to spend money to develop its plant. Whatever it might have done under such a state of public feeling certainly would not have been placed to its credit. The facts thus far developed in the case prove that the relations between the city and the water company were badly strained.

This case is an object lesson to water-works companies in several prominent phases. It shows conclusively that a private water company must be popular with the citizens, and that more than usual circumspection must be identified with its administration. It must not only apprehend, but comprehend every possible question incident to the wants of the people. A franchise to a water company is vastly different in its relation to and influence upon the people that confer it, from any other franchise that they may confer. Neither gas companies nor railroad companies are placed in any such peculiar relations with the people. Public indignation and possible competition usually correct their difficulties. A water company, however, stands unique by way of comparison. Its franchise generally embraces all of the water rights and privileges within a reasonable distance of the city it supplies with water. ⅝ It is yet to be learned of the existence of two competing water companies in any city of this country, except in one instance, that of Denver, Col.

The Syracuse Water Company, under the conditions herein mentioned, has received harsh treatment. It is entitled to all that is claimed for its stockholders. The fight for what is claimed is a just one—a reasonable one. Whatever may be the plan for the future water supply of Syracuse, her engineers and engineering experts must realize the fact that 15,000,000 of gallons from the new source of supply will in a short time be inadequate for the demands of her people. The present source of supply is not to be ignored. The reservoirs are invaluable and will be a greater necessity in the near future. Under the new order of things a greater demand for water is certain.

The question of protection of the new watershed, as well as of the old one, from possible contamination and pollution must be considered, and without delay. Incident to developing the water distribution is the question of public sewerage. It is to be hoped that Syracuse will make no mistakes in the possession of the water-works. That all of the present conditions can be utilized, and to the advantage of the new scheme, cannot be disclaimed by any intelligent engineer who possesses not only long but broad experience and knowledge.

The cement pipe in the present system has evidently done faithful work. No engineer of experience, however, would recommend its use in new construction, the conditions necessary to its permanency arc so difficult to obtain. According to testimony in this case it was evident that, if let alone after once laid, it would last indefinitely. The testimony upon this much-discussed question proves that if it is used as a trunk main under a Constant Head its life period is not yet determined, as, however, a part of a distribution system liable to be disturbed by tapping and undermining excavations, it has no place in modern water-works. As to the phase of deterioration of cast-iron pipe, it cut no figure in this case for the simple reason that the carbonate of lime deposited on the interior surface of the iron pipe proved to be a protective agent as against any tubercular action or oxidization.

IF the newspaper reports of the recent fire at Quebec, by which something like 200 persons were made homeless, are to be believed, there would seem to be great need of a prompt overhauling of the water distribution system of the city. We are told that the streams from the engines reached hardly ten feet from the nozzles, the explanation being that on Champlain street there is only a six-inch pipe, and for 700 feet, including the whole of the burned district, one of but four inches diameter. Moreover it is stated that, having been in the ground about twenty-five years, these pipes are so corrode^ that there is hardly any passage left for water. Under these circumstances it is not so very surprising that, even with Quebec’s willing and wellofficered fire department at hand, the flames swept away thirty buildings before they could be checked.

Apparatus and men are of little use for stopping a fire without water. The citizens of Quebec have had many warnings of the danger that they are in by reason of the insufficient fire protection of the city. If they continue to let them go unheeded they need not be surprised at any day to find this city the scene of a disastrous conflagration.

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