Water Distribution Systems in New England

Introduction

first-gummed-stamp-america
On July 1, 1847, Brattleboro postmaster Frederick Palmer had the idea of putting adhesive on the back of stamps, and so he produced and sold the first gummed postage stamp in America, now known as the 1847 Brattleboro Postmaster’s Provisional stamp.

New England is one of the oldest and most historically rich areas of the nation. Famous events such as the pilgrims founding Plimouth Plantation and Paul Revere’s midnight ride took place in Massachusetts. New Hampshire planted the first potato in America, Maine introduced the nation’s first sawmill, and Vermont produced the nation’s first gummed postage stamp. Connecticut has the most “firsts” of any state in the nation including the first newspaper, submarine, and hamburger, while tiny but mighty Rhode Island was the first colony in the nation to declare independence from Britain. New England also boasts another first: it is home to the nation’s first water distribution systems.

A Brief History

wood-water-pipe-boston
Wooden pipe and fire plug from colonial Boston on display at the Waterworks Museum, Boston, MA.

Boston, Massachusetts became home to the nation’s first waterworks in 1652. Distribution pipes at that time were made of wood, constructed from bored-out logs from the area’s plentiful hemlock and elm trees and attached together with pitch, tar, or iron hoops. While this rudimentary distribution system did supply some of the area’s residents, it was mainly used for fire protection as homes during that time — constructed of wood and heated with fireplaces —were particularly prone to fire.

wooden-pipes-new-england-chart

It was over a century before other New England cities began installing wooden distribution pipes. Providence, Rhode Island, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Worcester, Massachusetts all laid wooden pipes during the late 1700s, and several other cities followed suit in the early 1800s. Contrary to some urban myths, wooden pipes are not still in use in any areas of New England today. The high pressure from modern water systems would instantly split any existing wooden pipes. Wooden pipes that are occasionally unearthed during some construction projects were disconnected years ago.

iron-pipes-new-engljand-chart

Wooden pipes were problematic for many reasons including warping and sagging, insect infestation, rotting, taste issues, and splitting. As iron became increasingly available during the early 1800s, cities began installing iron pipes. The first iron pipes in New England were installed in Portland, Maine in 1812, followed by Montpelier, Vermont in 1820, and in both instances the pipes were lead. Many other cities followed suit throughout the 19th century, utilizing wrought iron, cast iron, and lead pipe. In the 1950s, ductile iron piping was introduced and boasted the longevity of cast iron with the addition of increased strength, flexibility, and safety. It became widely used in the 1970s and it is still the material of choice throughout New England today.

Distribution Systems Today

water-main-break
Destruction caused by a water main break. Photo copyright Erin Nekervis

New England can be considered a pioneer of our nation’s water infrastructure. After all, distribution systems have grown from a few wooden pipes in Boston to the intricate, complicated underground infrastructure that we enjoy today. However, because much of the area’s infrastructure was laid so long ago, it has reached the end of its useful life. Water main breaks occur daily and are not only inconvenient to customers, they can also be dangerous, as evidenced by the November 2016 water main break in Boston, Massachusetts that caused manhole fires and forced evacuation of the area. Maintaining and updating our distribution systems is critical to the health and safety of our nation, its people, and the economy. But with limited budgets and resources, where do we start?

water-main-install
Tata & Howard provided design, bidding, and construction administration for a water main replacement in Milford, Massachusetts, identified in a Capital Efficiency Plan.

Strategically prioritizing improvements is imperative to today’s water systems, as the rehabilitation and replacement of our nation’s buried infrastructure is an ongoing task. Asset management provides a roadmap for utilities, allowing them to maximize their limited infrastructure dollars by planning for the replacement of critical infrastructure over time. Tata & Howard’s Capital Efficiency Plan™ (CEP) methodology takes it one step further by combining the concepts of asset management, hydraulic modeling, and system criticality into a single comprehensive report. The final report provides utilities with a database and Geographic Information System (GIS) representation for each pipe segment within their underground piping system, prioritizes water distribution system piping improvements, and provides estimated costs for water main replacement and rehabilitation.

elevated-water-tank
Tata & Howard provided water system distribution evaluation as well as design, bidding, and construction administration for a water tank replacement project in Paxton, MA. 

Since the firm’s inception in 1992, Tata & Howard has remained a niche firm with deep experience and expertise in the water environment, and has provided CEP and hydraulic modeling services for countless municipalities throughout New England. Tata & Howard has one of the largest pipe asset management databases of any consulting engineering firm in New England. In fact, we have data on over 5,000 miles of New England pipe, providing utilities with critical information about their systems such as condition and probability of failure of certain pipe cohorts.

In Conclusion

Water distribution systems have come a long way since the days of hollowed out logs providing fire protection to colonial Bostonians. The underground network of distribution pipes has grown astronomically and now incorporates safer, stronger, and more cost-effective materials. As distribution systems are updated and expanded, it is critical that accurate, up-to-date information is available to water systems so that they may invest their limited capital wisely.

Summertime, Beaches, and Water Quality

crowded-beach-300x225Memorial Day is the generally accepted start of summer to most New England communities. Pools are opened, grills are wheeled out from storage, flowers are planted, and beaches are officially opened. And while summer is absolutely breathtaking in New England, it is also a time of increased stress on water quality and supply.

Water Quality

Defined by the EPA as a sandy, pebbly, or rocky shore of a body of water, beaches provide recreation for approximately 100 million United States residents over the age of 16 each year. Families flock to beaches during the summer months to enjoy activities such as swimming, surfing, boating, fishing, parasailing, exploring, walking, and sunbathing. Beaches not only include the sandy expanses with boardwalks and cottage rentals along the coastline, but also lake and riverfront areas, ponds, estuaries, and lagoons, some of which are even found in urban areas. Beaches are also an integral part of the the United States economy and provide habitat to many species.

beach-closed-sign-300x139Unfortunately, because of the huge popularity of beaches in the summer, water quality can suffer. Beach closures are common during the summer months, and are a result of pollutants and pathogens entering the water. One of the most common sources of water pollution is human fecal matter from leaky septic systems and sewer overflows. Human waste contains a variety of harmful organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites, that can cause illnesses such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis, and skin infection to humans. Another source of pollution is animal fecal matter from agricultural and stormwater runoff. While runoff contains a number of pollutants including motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, and trash, arguably the most dangerous and disruptive is animal feces. A single gram of dog feces contains over 23 million parvovirus bacteria in addition to whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, threadworms, giardia, and coccidian. These pathogens and parasites enter waterways through runoff and can have detrimental effects on waterways, aquatic life, and humans.

algal-bloom-300x225
Harmful algal blooms are toxic to marine life Image: U.S. Geological Survey, Dr. Jennifer L. Graham

Algal blooms are also more common in summer months. Algal blooms are caused by a variety of sources including warmer temperatures, high light, and increased turbidity, but the most contributive source is nutrients in the water from human and animal waste. Some algal blooms are extremely dangerous and have the potential to sicken or kill humans and animals, while less toxic blooms still cause harm to local economies and the environment. Commonly referred to as red tide, cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, algal blooms effectively cause dead zones in the water and often require significantly increased treatment costs to remedy.

Water Supply

In addition to water quality issues at beaches, water supply can also be a concern. Since the population at popular vacation spots such as Cape Cod and the Maine beaches increases astronomically in the summer months, so does the demand for water. And not only are these seasonal visitors doing laundry, cooking, and drinking the water — they are also watering their lawns and gardens, which accounts for over half of a household’s total water usage. It is therefore understandable how a small community’s water supply can easily become taxed during the high summer season.

Solutions

clean-water-act-300x169Fortunately, there are policies and regulations in place that directly address seasonal water quality and quantity issues. The EPA, along with other governmental agencies, have enacted several laws that aim to protect the quality of our nation’s beaches:

The Clean Water Act
The Clean Water Act, established by the EPA in 1971, establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. Under the Clean Water Act, the following programs specifically address water pollution:

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDES) Permit Program
The NPDES program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States.

The Pollution Budgeting (TMDL) Program
The TMDL program requires states, territories, and authorized tribes to develop lists of impaired waters, establish priority rankings for waters, and develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). TMDLs related to beaches include pathogens, nutrients, and trash.

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000
The BEACH Act amends the Clean Water Act to better protect public health at our nation’s beaches. The BEACH Act requires EPA to recommend water quality criteria that states, territories, and tribes can adopt into their water quality standards for pathogens and pathogen indicators in coastal recreational waters. The BEACH Act also authorizes grants to states, territories, and eligible Tribes to monitor coastal and Great Lakes beaches and to notify the public when water quality standards are exceeded.

Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (MDRPRA)
The MDRPRA established programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) that identify, determine sources of, assess, reduce, and prevent marine debris. MDRPRA also reactivates the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee, chaired by NOAA.

The Coastal Zone Management Act
The Coastal Zone Management Act is administered by NOAA, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM), and provides for management of the nation’s coastal resources, including the Great Lakes.

The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS)
The APPS implements the provisions of Marpol 73/78, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978. (“Marpol” is short for marine pollution.) In 1987, APPS was amended by the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act. The MPPRCA requires EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the effects of improper disposal of plastics on the environment and methods to reduce or eliminate such adverse effects. MPPRCA also requires EPA, NOAA, and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to evaluate the use of volunteer groups in monitoring floatable debris.

Shore Protection Act (SPA)
The SPA is applicable to transportation of municipal and commercial wastes in coastal waters. The SPA aims to minimize debris from being deposited into coastal waters from inadequate waste handling procedures by waste transporting vessels. EPA, in consultation with the Coast Guard, is responsible for developing regulations under the SPA.

Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA)
The MPRSA, also called the Ocean Dumping Act, generally prohibits the following:

  • Transportation of material from the United States for the purpose of ocean dumping;
  • Transportation of material from anywhere for the purpose of ocean dumping by U.S. agencies or U.S.-flagged vessels; and
  • Dumping of material transported from outside the United States into the U.S. territorial sea.

In addition to the numerous governmental regulations protecting water quality and our nation’s beaches, local communities also implement policies that specifically aim to address water supply issues. Some of these include the following:

  • water-banOutdoor water restrictions and bans: Many communities implement water bans in the summer that severely limit or prohibit outdoor watering.
  • Public education: Many summer communities implement public outreach that includes requests for voluntary conservation.
  • Leak detection and repair: Because water loss is such a serious issue across the United States, many communities are actively implementing leak detection and repair policies. Repairing older infrastructure typically has an exponential return on investment and also serves as a means of public education, with repair crews in the street garnering local media attention.

In Conclusion

dog-sign-201x300Beaches are one of the most traditional and enjoyable means of summer entertainment for families and individuals, and they provide a plethora of recreational activities for all ages. Protecting our beaches and recreational waters is imperative to the health of our nation’s citizens and economy, and we are fortunate that our nation’s governmental agencies and local communities proactively work to maintain the health of our waters. We as individuals can also help to protect our beaches and waterways by reducing our personal water consumption, cleaning up after our pets, and being mindful of pesticide and fertilizer usage. Together, we can assure that present and future generations are able to enjoy our nation’s beautiful beaches.

Surf’s up!Subscribe-to-our-newsletter1

Tata & Howard Raises Funds for Camp Sunshine

Tata & Howard Raises Funds for Camp Sunshine

flip flop day camp sunshine
Collin Stuart, Heidi White, Brooke Cotta, Marie Rivers, Molly Coughlin, Amanda Cavaliere, Karen Gracey, Brittany Colcord, Jenna Rzasa, and Matt St. Pierre pose with their flip flops

New England-based engineering firm participates in National Flip Flop Day to support Maine camp

Employee-owners from Tata & Howard, Inc., a leading innovator in water, wastewater, stormwater, and environmental services engineering solutions, participated in National Flip Flop Day on June 19th. The holiday, which falls on the third Friday in June each year, was started nine years ago by Tropical Smoothie Café in order to raise funds to benefit Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Tata & Howard team members participated in their own version of National Flip Flop Day in which employee-owners were able to wear flip flops to work in exchange for a donation to Camp Sunshine. 100% of donations were matched by Tata & Howard’s Philanthropy Committee.

“With offices throughout New England, Tata & Howard is committed to finding ways to give back to the community in which we live and work,” said Jenna Rzasa, P.E., Vice President of Tata & Howard. “Maine’s Camp Sunshine provides both solace and joy to severely ill children and their families, and we are deeply honored to support their efforts.”

Located in beautiful Casco, Maine, Camp Sunshine is the only organization in the nation that focuses on not only addressing the effects of a life-threatening illness on the child who is ill, but also the entire family. Surrounded by professional staff within the breathtaking grounds of Camp Sunshine, families receive a reprieve from the stress of having a child with an illness and spend a week just having fun together.

To date, National Flip Flop Day has raised over $2 million for Camp Sunshine.