Condition of the Water Supply In NYC: 1892

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Just now the City of New York is receiving a sharp warning on the importance of cleanliness in its streets, perfection of its drainage system, and the purity of its water supply through the menace of contagion having its origin in filthy communities thousands of miles away.

There is no doubt that if cholera should get into the city its spread would be facilitated and its ravages intensified by bad sanitary conditions, and in this respect there is no more dangerous factor than polluted water.

Its insidious effects upon the public health in ordinary times are comparatively unnoticed, though there are many diseases to which it constantly contributes; but in case of an infection whose germs seize upon sources of pollution everywhere as a means of getting into the human system and the more effectually doing their fatal work, it becomes a matter of startling importance. A careful investigation of the nuisances in the Croton watershed has been ordered by the Department of Public Works, with the avowed purpose of stopping the contamination of the water that is known to be constantly going on; but orders from the department, explorations by the Inspectors of the Croton Aqueduct Bureau, and reports in any number will not put an end to pollution, however much they may be intended to reassure the public mind. There has indeed been for years a shameful neglect of practical effort in this matter, and two years ago last Winter the State Legislature interfered in the most scandalous manner to make such effort as difficult and ineffectual as possible.

An investigation of the Croton watershed was made some time ago which disclosed the various nuisances, their character, extent, constant and deleterious effects near the banks of the Croton reservoirs and the streams that feed them. It was shown that stables, pig-pens, tanneries, factories of various kinds, out-houses, and village drains were so situated in many places as to be constantly polluting the water supply of the city, and analysis showed the kind and extent of the pollution. But this investigation and report were almost entirely without practical effect. The Legislature of 1885 did pass an act giving the State Board of Health a qualified power to regulate and prevent these contaminating agencies, but that did not of itself stop them. They paid little more attention to the new law and the State regulations than to the old law and the municipal regulations. An investigation was made for the State Board of Health in 1888, which showed that the same kind and variety of nuisances still existed, somewhat increased in number, though the analyses indicated that their effects had been in a slight degree abated.

But the interposition of the State Board of health to compel the removal of some of the worst of the nuisances and to force the people of the Croton Valley to make some other provision for disposing of their filth and refuse than the easy one of letting it drain into the drinking water of New York City, led to the mischievous interference of the Legislature to throw the whole burden and expense of protecting the water supply upon New York City. The amendment of the law of 1885 was carried through the Legislature by the efforts of Senator Robertson and in the interest of the people of Westchester County, who were trying to make a general sewer of the Croton River. For years they had been prohibited from building their outhouses, stables, factories, drains, and other nuisance making contrivances in such a way as to pollute the Croton water, and regulations having the authority of law required them to make changes when ordered to do so that would stop the mischief. The Legislature of 1890 threw the whole work and expense of protection on the City Government. If buildings had to be removed, it must not only move them but pay for them; if the drainage system of a whole town had to be changed, the city must bear the expense, and it would have to be constantly buying off the producers of nuisances.

Against this new obstacle little or no headway has been made. In fact, matters have continued in the old way, with an occasional new inquiry and report, and new analyses of Croton water with assurances that it is not very bad yet. The last official inquiry was made about a year ago by two chemists in behalf of the City Board of Health. Their explorations were confined to the east branch of the Croton River, and very little difference was found in the condition of things from that which existed in 1885 and 1888. The shops, factories, stables, outhouses, and drains were still there, and their effects still reached the Croton water as was shown by new analyses. There was a slight variation in the proportion of contaminating substances in the water, but they were still there, and the need of effective measures for protecting the water supply was more than ever evident. It is to be hoped that the inspection now ordered will not be an inspection merely. The premises have been inspected many times already, but where nuisances are found to exist vigorous and immediate measures should be taken to put a stop to them. No thorough and comprehensive system of protection can be carried out in a hurry, but clear cases of pollution of the water can be discovered and stopped, and what it is possible for the Aqueduct Bureau to do should be done at once.



Website: The History
Article Name: Condition of the Water Supply In NYC: 1892
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


New York Times Sep 3, 1892 pg. 4
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