How Water Shaped the First Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving, 1621

While we are celebrating Thanksgiving this week by spending time with family and indulging in an abundance of succulent foods, water is probably the furthest thing from our minds. But water played a key role in the first Thanksgiving, and was instrumental in shaping the history that has brought us to modern-day America.

The History of Pilgrims

While history books found in elementary schools across the nation commonly teach that the Pilgrims fled England in 1620 in search of religious freedom and a new life, they seldom mention that the Pilgrims were also fleeing the highly contaminated water supply of 1600’s England. Lacking any type of improved sanitation or water treatment, the water supply had become so fouled that the life expectancy of city-dwellers was down to a miserable 26 years.

The landing of the Pilgrims

Although they had no understanding of pathogens and bacteria, the English knew that drinking plain water made them sick. Therefore, the English, including the Pilgrims, avoided drinking water, instead choosing beer and occasionally wine as their drink of choice — even for the children. During the extremely difficult, perilous 65-day journey of the Virginia-bound Mayflower, the ship ran low on beer, and the crew, not wanting to share their remaining beer supply with the Pilgrims, made the decision to land early in Massachusetts instead. The ship docked near Provincetown and, after sending out a scouting party, sailed to Plymouth where it docked for the winter. This was December of 1620.

Over the winter, over half the population of Plymouth perished from poor nutrition, inadequate living quarters, and harsh conditions. The remaining 50 English settlers would have been an easy target for the robust Indian population that had lived in the area only a few short years prior. But where were they now?

Bringing Disease to the New Land

Leptospira bacteria

In fact, many of the local Native American tribes had been decimated by leptospirosis just a few years earlier. The epidemic, which took place between 1617-1619, was brought to the New World on explorers’ ships in the form of the black rat. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease whose bacterium lives in animal hosts and is transmitted from animals to humans via urine in fresh water. Non-native to North America at the time, the black rat is the only animal whose kidneys can withstand a continuous infection of leptospirosis. These rats quickly infected native species, which in turn contaminated the water supply. And because Native Americans interacted with water so much more than did Europeans – drinking, bathing (Europeans of the time did not bathe much), cranberry harvesting, fishing, and wearing animal pelts, for example — they were much more susceptible to leptospirosis fatality. Squanto, a Native American who became a friend to the Pilgrims and who negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, was the only surviving member of the Patuxet tribe. The rest had perished from leptospirosis.

Once the colonists began to form a new life during the spring of 1621, they learned about alternate food sources, most of which involved the abundant, clean water in the area. Massachusetts Bay was teaming with fish, though the Pilgrims did not have fishing gear; instead, they learned to harvest clams, mussels, and lobster from the sea. The lush area also provided habitat to waterfowl such as ducks and geese, as well as wild turkeys and other birds. The Pilgrims even learned how to catch eel in riverbeds. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in the fall of 1621, with the 50 surviving Pilgrims and about 90 Wampanoag guests.

Looking Forward

The Boston Conduit, first waterworks in the United States

The Pilgrims had survived nearly one year in the New Land, and their future was filled with hope. These hardy people continued to build and multiply over the next few decades, and just 31 short years after the first Thanksgiving, Boston became home to what would become known as the first waterworks in the United States. In 1652, the Water-Works Company of Boston constructed a gravity conduit system that used hollowed out logs to convey water from water sources such as wells and springs to a 12’x12’ reservoir. And the rest is history.

So this Thanksgiving, raise a toast — of water — to the Native Americans and colonists who survived that harsh winter almost 400 years ago. Without them, we wouldn’t be celebrating Thanksgiving today.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

The Importance of World Toilet Day 2015

world_toilet_day_2015A toilet is a necessary item we all use multiple times a day, and something we typically choose not to discuss. After all, who wants to talk about toilets — and why we need them. But that’s just what World Toilet Day aims to change.

percentages without toiletsOn November 19, 2001, former construction industry executive Jack Sims founded the World Toilet Organization, and the inaugural World Toilet Summit was held in Singapore. Every year since then, we have celebrated World Toilet Day in an effort to bring awareness of the global santitation crisis, and to eliminate the taboo surrounding the subject of toilets and sanitation. Since its inception, World Toilet Day has gained the notice and support of many organizations in the private sector, civil society, and the international community, and was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2013.

Prior to the inception of World Toilet Day, the less than glamorous subject of sanitation received very little attention, and was therefore rarely prioritized on global development agenda. World Toilet Day aims to educate the international community on the risks associated with lack of sanitation as well as the urgency of implementing global sanitation. With that in mind, let’s look at some global sanitation statistics.

Global Sanitation Fast Facts

  • more people have cell phone than toilet1 in 3 people — 2.5 billion of the world’s total population — lacks access to a clean and safe toilet
  • 1 billion people practice open defecation
  • 90% of diarrhea cases are caused by feces-contaminated food or water
  • Diarrhea results in the deaths of more than 700,000 children under the age of five every year
  • About 2,000 young children die as a result of diarrhea every single day
  • Every $1 spent on sanitation brings $5.50 in return by keeping people healthy and productive
  • Economic losses from lack of access to sanitation amount to an estimated $260 billion annually, more than the entire gross domestic product of Chile
  • Feces are responsible for more than 50% of the nine million preventable child deaths each year
  • Toilets have added 20 years to the human lifespan over the past 200 years
  • If everyone had access to a toilet, the estimated annual gain in economic productivity would be $225 billion

Lack of sanitation not only produces staggering health and economic consequences, but also has serious social implications, particularly for women and girls. Women who lack access to safe, private sanitation facilities are exponentially more susceptible to harassment and violence, and many girls who reach the age of puberty drop out of school if their school lacks adequate sanitation facilities. In general, children lose approximately 272 million school days due to diarrhea each year, with girls losing even more school days due to their familial role as water-gatherers in developing countries.

What We Can Do

Matt Damon dons a (clean) toilet seat to spread awareness of the fact that the toilet is the single invention that has saved the most lives.
Matt Damon, co-founder of, dons a (clean) toilet seat to spread awareness of the fact that the invention that has saved the most lives in human history is the toilet.

Fortunately, the World Toilet Organization and World Toilet Day have brought the sanitation crisis into the global spotlight, attracting the support of several high-profile charitable organizations such as charity: water, Water For People, WaterAid, and, co-founded by Hollywood superstar and Massachusetts native Matt Damon. All of the above charities receive excellent ratings from Charity Navigator, with high percentages of their assets going directly to program expenses. In addition, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made global sanitation a targeted focus of its charitable works, with the Foundation committing $370 million to water and sanitation issues as well as hosting the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in an effort to bring safe — as well as sustainable — sanitation to the global community.

In Conclusion

Global sanitation and hygiene are of paramount importance to the health and safety of billions of people, and also to the health of the global economy and environment. While the subject of sanitation has become less taboo and has gained more exposure through World Toilet Day and various charitable organizations over the past 14 years, we still have a long way to go. We can start by spreading the word through social media, news outlets, and word of mouth, and by supporting the charities that work so hard to provide safe, private sanitation to the entire global community. Together we can help bring health, safety, and dignity to the 1 in 3 people who still lack access to a basic toilet.

Tata & Howard Receives Presidential Sponsorship Award from MWWA

Tata & Howard Receives Presidential Sponsorship Award from MWWA

Tata & Howard received the Presidential Sponsorship Award from the Massachusetts Water Works Association (MWWA) during its Annual Meeting & Awards Banquet held at Devens Common Center in Devens, MA on November 6. The award recognizes the firm for its exceptional and ongoing contribution to MWWA.

Patrick S. O’Neale, P.E., Vice President, at right, accepts the award from MWWA President Randy Swigor

Also at the Annual Meeting and Awards Banquet, Patrick S. O’Neale, P.E., Vice President of Tata & Howard, was elected to the MWWA Board of Directors, where he will start as Third Trustee and move up the Board year to year until he serves as President in 2021.

“I am humbled to accept the Presidential Sponsorship Award on behalf of Tata & Howard and to be elected to the Board,” said Mr. O’Neale. “I welcome the opportunity to assist in the guidance of MWWA in its continued commitment to the drinking water profession.”

Mr. O’Neale has also been a member of the Program Committee for five years and currently serves as co-chair.

In addition, Paul B. Howard, P.E., Senior Vice President and co-founder of Tata & Howard, served as President of MWWA in 2009, and currently serves on both the Legislative and Finance Committees.

“Tata & Howard commends MWWA’s commitment to the protection of public health in Massachusetts through a safe and sufficient drinking water supply, and we are honored to support such a worthy organization,” added Mr. Howard.

Tata & Howard has supported MWWA as an annual Presidential Sponsor since 2008.

National Philanthropy Day 2015

NPD logoIn 1986, United States President Ronald Reagan designated November 15 as National Philanthropy Day, a day which celebrates giving, volunteering, and charitable works, and the impact that philanthropy makes on our society. National Philanthropy Day celebrates philanthropy, which etymologically translates to “love of humanity,” each November 15 in an effort to turn the word into action and to recognize the change that word has brought to our local and global communities.

National Philanthropy Day is now overseen by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, who entreat people to follow the five Ps of giving in order to make the most impact:

  1. Passionate. With literally thousands of charities and causes from which to choose, it is critical to support a select few about which you are passionate. The more passionate you are about a cause, the more likely you are to fully invest in it, including not just money, but time.
  1. Proactive. Once you’ve determined which type of cause you would like to support, proactively find a charity dedicated to the cause.
  1. Prepare. Do your research. Not all charities are created equal, and you want to be sure that the charity you are supporting is fiscally responsible and well managed. Both Charity Navigator and Charity Watch are excellent resources for investigating all aspects of charity ratings.
  1. Plan. Create a plan of giving action so that you hold yourself to a certain dollar and time amount. Charities typically receive most of their donations in the last quarter of the year, while struggling in the spring and summer. Find out what makes the most sense for the charity you have chosen to support and put a specific plan in place — and stick to it.
  1. Powerful. Now that you are ready and committed to give, ensure that your donation is powerful; meaning give the most you can, in both time and money.

water_for_peopleAt Tata & Howard, we are passionate about improving the environment in which we live through our work — and works. As a corporation, we have followed the five Ps of giving and have partnered with select charities in an effort to support them fully. Water For People has been Tata & Howard’s charity of choice since 2005, with employee-owners donating directly from their paychecks and the company matching 100% of every dollar donated. In addition, Tata & Howard sponsors the CTAWWA Water for People Golf Tournament in the fall. Water For People strives to provide safe, sustainable drinking water for everyone, forever. According to Water for People, they exist for one purpose, and it’s as simple as their name: they want all people to have safe, continuous water, and when they do, their job will be done.

navajo water project
Tata & Howard employee-owners helped support the Navajo Water Project

This past year, Tata & Howard selected another key charity to support after learning of the plight of the Navajo on American soil. This year, Tata & Howard donated $2,235 to Navajo Water Project, a subsidiary of DIGDEEP that works to provide safe, accessible drinking water to Native Americans living in Navajo Nation. While there are dozens of water charities supporting developing countries, Navajo Water Project is the only water charity that serves people living in the United States.

Each Thanksgiving season, Tata & Howard employee-owners participate in a food drive for the Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB). WCFB is central Massachusetts’ leading anti-hunger organization distributing over five million pounds of donated food and grocery product in partnership with food donors, financial supporters, and volunteers. This year, Tata & Howard employee-owners collected and donated over 400 pounds of food for WCFB during the month of October.

dare_family_servicesEvery December, Tata & Howard partners with Dare Family Services to provide personalized gifts to disadvantaged children. Employee-owners choose wish ornaments from a giving tree and purchase the gifts for which the children ask. All unclaimed wishes are purchased by Tata & Howard’s Philanthropy Committee — a robust, in-house committee that raises and distributes funds to charities — ensuring that every child receives his or her requested gifts. Dare Family Services’ primary mission is to find, train, and support loving homes that will help children become resilient and overcome the trauma of serious abuse and neglect. Every child is given a life, education, and a road to normal adulthood.

In addition to Tata & Howard’s partner charities, employee-owners support their own chosen charities, often with support from the company’s Philanthropy Committee. Employee-owners have supported such worthy causes as Special Olympics of Massachusetts (SOMA), Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Camp Sunshine, and Livestrong. And Tata & Howard employee-owners don’t just write checks — they also donate significant amounts of time, like coaching SOMA, running for the Jimmy Fund, competing in the Tough Mudder Challenge to support Wounded Warrior Project, riding in the PanMass Challenge, training dogs for NEADS/Dogs for Deaf, and skiing for hear ME now.

hands_holding_globeNational Philanthropy Day is a grassroots movement to increase public awareness of the importance of philanthropy, and to provide information on giving and volunteering so that people can practice efficient philanthropy. It is also the ideal day to reassess charitable giving, from both a corporate and individual level. As John Rockefeller stated, “Think of giving not only as a duty but as a privilege.” At Tata & Howard, we feel truly privileged to be able to support our corporate and individual causes, and believe that each and every act of charity has significant impact that helps to make the world a better place. Happy National Philanthropy Day!

5 Innovative Uses for Reclaimed Water

Purple pipes, such as these used in Collier County, Florida, indicate usage of non-potable reclaimed water

Reclaimed water, or recycled water, is wastewater that has been treated to remove all solids, bacteria, and pathogens. Most often it is used for recharging groundwater supplies, for industrial purposes such as cooling towers, for agricultural and commercial irrigation, and for firefighting, and its use is increasing exponentially, with purple pipes dotting the landscape of our nation. Recycled water is also being used in some incredibly creative ways, and we’ve highlighted five innovative uses for reclaimed water below.


Algae are considered a potent source of biofuel and are also used extensively in the cosmetics and nutritional supplements industries. Since growing algae commercially requires chemical fertilization, it is frequently considered unviable and prohibitively expensive. Chemical fertilizers significantly cut into profits and they are also needed for more crucial crops, making traditional algae growth unsustainable. Fortunately, some scientists from Rice University in Houston, Texas have found a way to grow algae in municipal wastewater. The wastewater already contains lots of natural, free fertilizer, and the algae actually help to purify the water.

Algae grows in pools of wastewater in Houston, TX (photo: Rice University)

In the study, the scientists found that strains of choice, valuable, oil-rich algae grew and thrived in open-air pools of municipal wastewater that had previously undergone solids removal, while at the same time removing more than 90% of nitrates and 50% of phosphorus from the wastewater. Typically, when too many nitrates and phosphorus remain in treated wastewater, environmental issues such as algae blooms and drinking water contamination can occur. And since there is currently no cost-effective way to remove large quantities of nitrates or phosphorus from water, growing algae in wastewater actually provides significant benefit to municipal wastewater treatment plants. It’s a win-win.

International Space Station

93% of all water on board the International Space Station (ISS) is reclaimed from several sources, including breath and sweat condensate, shower runoff, urine from animals — and, on the American side of the station, multi-national human urine. You see, the Russians don’t recycle their urine, but the Americans do. And, not wanting to waste any resources, the Americans also collect urine from the Russian side and purify that as well.

Astronauts drink water made from recycled urine and other wastewater aboard the International Space Station (photo: NASA)

“It tastes like bottled water,” said Layne Carter, water subsystem manager for the ISS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “As long as you can psychologically get past the point that it’s recycled urine and condensate that comes out of the air.”

Not only do the Americans and Russians disagree on urine reclamation, they also disagree on purification methods. The Russians utilize silver in its ionic form, and Americans use iodine, although there are plans to switch to silver since it doesn’t need to be filtered from the water prior to consumption. However, Carter believes it is smart for the two nations to employ differing purification methods aboard the station.

“It really makes a lot of sense to have dissimilar redundancies in the space station in case one of the systems has problems,” noted Carter.

The ISS does keep around 2,000 liters of backup water in case of an emergency, but Americans don’t want to take any chances. Speaking on recycling their Russian colleagues’ urine, Carter explains, “We collect it in bags, and then the crew hauls it over to the US side. We don’t do 100% of the Russian urine. It depends on our time availability.”

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield produced a video while he was on board ISS in 2013, and in it he defends the consumption of reclaimed water, including urine.

“Before you cringe at the thought of drinking your leftover wash water and your leftover urine, keep in mind that the water that we end up with is purer than most of the water that you drink at home,” he said. “That makes the International Space Station its own self-contained environment. That’s a critical step towards living for long periods off of planet Earth.”

Drinking Water

Wichita Falls, Texas constructed a 12.5-mile pipeline to deliver the City’s treated wastewater directly to its drinking water treatment plant (photo: Shelley Kofler)

Last year, the then drought-stricken city of Wichita Falls, Texas built a 12.5-mile pipeline that connected its wastewater treatment plant directly to the Cypress Water Treatment Plant, where wastewater was purified into drinking water. At the time, Wichita Falls was suffering from its worst drought on record, with its lakes hovering at an alarming 23%, and the wastewater treatment plant supplied anywhere from 30-50% of demand per day. And while some residents initially opposed the idea, they quickly adapted to the idea of drinking recycled water — after all, there was little choice.

“The water coming out of our wastewater treatment plant is actually cleaner than the lake water it will be mixed with,” said Daniel Nix, Utility Operations Manager for the City of Wichita Falls. He added that the wastewater is highly treated through a four-step process prior to being piped to the drinking water treatment plant where it is then mixed with lake water — and highly treated again.

In July, Wichita Falls was able to stop supplementing its drinking water supply with treated wastewater, as much of Texas experienced heavy rains in the spring that restored lakes and reservoirs almost to capacity. The City now has a drought-proof backup plan that will allow residents and officials to rest a little easier.


Dean Ehnes’ German Pilsner won Best In Show (photo: Mark Jockers)

A very adventurous group of home beer brewers known as the Oregon Brew Crew received approval from the state of Oregon to utilize 100% recycled sewage water to brew beer for its 2015 Sustainable Water Challenge/Pure Water Brew competition. Clean Water Services, a wastewater treatment utility that serves the Portland, Oregon metro area, supplied 300 gallons of reclaimed water from its Forest Grove facility to 25 Oregon Brew Crew members in June, and the home brewing enthusiasts set to work. The competition was held on August 29 at the Raccoon Lodge and Brew Pub in Beaverton, Oregon, with Dean Ehnes winning Best In Show, and the grand prize of $100, for his German Pilsner. Ehnes’ brew, along with the other winners, were showcased at the WateReuse Symposium in Seattle and the Water Environment Federation Conference in Chicago, both held this past September.

Although the Oregon Brew Crew received approval to use reclaimed water for their homebrew competition, direct potable reuse is prohibited in Oregon. Many proponents of recycled water usage would like to see that change, and think craft beer is one of the quickest and easiest ways to capture the public’s attention and support. Clean Water Services utilizes advanced treatment processes including ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, and advanced oxidation to ensure the water is clean and pure.

Mark Jockers, a spokesman for Clean Water Services, stated, “We need to be judging water by its quality, and not by its history. The water we’re producing is significantly cleaner than what the safe drinking standards are for water that comes out of taps across the United States.”

And when it comes to the “yuck factor” associated with water reuse, Zachary Dorsey of the WateReuse Association, a nonprofit that supports water recycling, sums it up nicely: “We all live downstream from someone.”

NFL Football

San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium utilizes recycled water to irrigate its playing field (photo:

With California in the midst of one of the worst droughts in its history, it’s no surprise that Levi’s® Stadium, the new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers, is the first NFL stadium to receive a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Opened in 2014, the stadium boasts such green features as a 27,000 square foot green roof, energy efficient systems, solar power, and the use of almost exclusively recycled construction materials. Recycled water also plays a huge part in the stadium’s sustainability, with about 85% of all water use coming in the form of recycled water from the City of Santa Clara Water and Sewer Utilities. The reclaimed water is used for playing field irrigation, flushing toilets, cooling towers, and of course, watering the enormous green roof!

The stadium has been very well received, and sets a high bar for other stadiums across the nation to follow suit. Unfortunately for 49ers football fans, the stadium has not helped their team, who is currently in dead last place in the NFL standings.

In Conclusion

As we continue to face ever increasing challenges on our water supply including higher demand, failing infrastructure, population growth, climate change, and drought, individuals and communities are increasingly viewing wastewater as a resource rather than a waste product. Continuing to find unique and practical applications for water reuse will both foster greater public acceptance and protect our most precious resource, paving the way for a sustainable future — a benefit on which we can all agree.