Water Pollution Control---One Phase of Conservation
DAVID B. LEE*
S This discussion is about one phase of water con-
servation-the problem of water pollution-its im-
pact on our health and well-being and on other water
Uses. We start with the basic truism that water is not
only essential to life, but safe water is essential to
health. In turn, an ample supply of safe water is
essential to our well-being. In our modern life, these
two basic concepts-a safe water and enough water-
cannot be separated. In 6,000 communities, 70 million
people in the United States depend on surface streams
for drinking water. Hence the adequacy of these
sources, both as to quantity and quality, is of direct
public health concern.
Those of us who have been privileged to travel
in the underdeveloped countries of the world have
caught a glimpse of what sanitation was like a century
ago in our own country. Open water courses are used
for drinking purposes, washing the body, scrubbing
clothes, disposing of human excreta, and not the
least important, as a place for ducks and children to
Lack of attention to and the control of environ-
mental health are in evidence in both rural and urban
areas. The need for improvement in environmental
health is self-evident even to the casual observer.
No one knows just how or when the miracle of
life first happened. But scientists agree that life began
in the waters of an ancient sea. The Bible tells us
the same thing in different words: "The earth was
without form, and void, until the Spirit of God moved
upon the face of the waters."
Life, first born in the sea, has never lost its con-
nection with water. Through long ages, there was no
life at all on dry land. Finally, plants and animals
found that they could live outside water-outside it, but
not without it, for water still means life to all living
things. And Man is no exception. With water, we live;
without it, we die. Water is our oldest friend and our
most valuable servant as well.
The first civilization grew in the river valleys-the
Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus and Ganges.
Rivers were the first highways; in the early days whole
tribes moved up and down the river valleys in search of
As men grew wiser, boats grew bigger and stronger.
*Director, Bureau of Sanitary Engineering, Florida State
Board of Health, Jacksonville, Florida.
The Atlantic carried explorers to the New World. And
the lakes and rivers of the Americas carried traders'
goods, turned mill wheels, watered the crops and live-
stock of the settlers.
Wars have been fought and treaties signed; boun-
dary lines have been established; civilizations have
lived and died-all because of water. Today we are
making more demands upon our most valuable servant
than ever before.
The ancient Egyptians used the waters of the Nile
to irrigate their land more than 5,000 years ago. Today
in the United States we are using some 25 trillion gal-
lons of water per year to irrigate more than 25 million
acres of land.
In addition to these long-time uses, we have new
ones. The most important of the new uses center
around our industries. Industries in the United States
use 60 billion gallons of fresh water every day; in fact,
the water used by industries weighs 50 times as much
as all their other raw materials combined. And these
figures do not include the stream flow that is used to
The Nation's Water Supply is Constant
Averaged over the years, the nation's water supply
is constant, and this supply must support population
and industrial growth. In 1900 we had 75 million
people and a relatively small industrial machine. By
1950, the same amount of water had to support 150
million people and a seven-fold increase in industrial
productivity. Based on present estimates, by 1975
we will have 200 million people and double or triple
our present industrial production. In general, our
supply of water will remain constant.
Crippling deficiencies can be offset in part by
storage-impoundments to even out flows-but by and
large the answer will be in treatment of waste water
after use by the cities and industries so that the streams
can be reused over and over as they flow from city to
city, from state to state.
We use water to carry away the wastes from our
homes, cities and industries. This use has always been
important; today it is being abused and is threatening
to cut down or completely prevent our other uses.
Finally, we use water for much of the recreation
we need. The beauty of the landscape it creates, the
fish and wildlife it supports, the fun of swimming and
boating-all these give us pleasure and make it possible
for us to return to our everyday\ lies refreshed and
It is easy to see why watei has been called "the
key to Nature's treasurehouse." It ii eas' to see also
why water has been the theme ot poems. legends and
-myths of all peoples. Primitive Li ibhe ha\e their ri\er-
gods and rain-gods.
Moses saved his people b) mniling the rock and
bringing forth water. The Psalmist said. "He leadeth
me beside the still waters." And baptism is a symbol
of water's power to cleanse and puri r.
Water has indeed been Man's best tiend. It is
hard to understand why we ha'e allowed ourselves to
neglect and mistreat it.
A statement by the late Preident Theodore Roose-
velt, when he called the First C.onteience of Govern.
ors of the States of the Union (t dlscuLs riiers, is per-
tinent. In his opening remarks at the conference he
made the comment that "Amerii.a tor a century has
managed to mismanage all of its i\er '\,terns." Many
decades have elapsed since that nlie and we ha\e spent
a great deal of money, energy\ and time and hate
heard much discussion and ha\e seen a loot ot action,
yet in the author's opinion the general iele\ance and
general accuracy of the statement can still stand Ter-
rific progress has been made during the past tL\o
decades in the abatement of pollution.
Pollution Increasing Despite Progress
In the year 1900, there was piac ticllh no treatment
of domestic sewage, and raw ,ewvage ot inadequately
treated sewage from approximately 27 million people
emptied into our waters. We had an industrial pol-
lution load of equivalent to appiolximaiell 6 million
people. By 1950, there was adequate treatment tot
approximately 32 million people. but the rai, or in.
adequately treated sewage from 601. million people wa,
being introduced into our streams and lakes. \\e had
an industrial pollution load of equivalent to I10 Imil-
lion people to which may be added other industrial
wastes such as acid mine drainage and inorganic wastes.
Yet today on the threshold ol the -econd hall or
the century there are a certain tew \\ ho now adt\cate,
"The Solution to Pollution i' Dilution." and this
slogan has been paraphrased b\ Mi. Mark Hollis as
stating, "In This Country the Dilultii ql Polluion 1.
no longer the Solution" to which \e all agree. I'm sure.
This matter of water resource, has becomee so
serious that the President of the United states on Mal
26, 1954 set up a cabinet committee on rescoutres %,atei
policy. This committee consists ot the e(iletail of
Defense, the Secretary of Agric culture and the Secre.
tary of the Interior who is chaii man ot this committee.
The Secretary of Health, Education and \\'ellaie. the
From a recent article of the National Sanitation
Foundation called "The Challenge," we quote, "Mod-
ern cities, industrial concentration and the dependence
of the population on community facilities, make the
additional demands that hazards to health (welfare,
recreation, esthetic, etc.) be prevented rather than cor-
rected." As stated previously, there seems to be a small
minority that advocates further degradation of our
natural resources before curative action is taken. At a
later date, it may be impossible to apply corrective
measures successfully. This is a very negative ap-
proach. I am confident that the public, in general,
will not accept this philosophy, but it is a dangerous
trend and will require the continual efforts of every-
one concerned to overcome this line of thinking. The
purpose of pollution abatement is to up-grade streams,
remove gross pollution and return our waters to a
resource so that the masses of the people will get the
most use for them.
Sewage Treatment Plant Construction
Since 1915 there has been an average of $140
million spent annually for sewage treatment plant
construction. This is, of course, based on 1950 dollars.
During the war of 1918, actual construction fell off
sharply and gradually built up to approximately $220
million about 1928-29. It fell to about $60 or $70
million in 1934 and went up to about $275 million in
1936 maintaining a high rate of construction until
the war in 1941. It again grew to a little over $200
million around 1950 and has maintained about $190
million since. In order to keep up with our present
rate of growth of industry and population, it is esti-
mated by others that a 10-year construction program
is needed ranging between $350-$500 million per year.
The author feels that a higher figure is more realistic.
An estimated loss of $200 million per year is caused
by pollution and degradation of water. This figure
-would pay for pollution abatement throughout the
country and save our waters if everyone would get
behind the program.
The State of Florida through its Board of Health
feels that it has a great responsibility in the protec-
tion of our water resources. We have a lot of water;
better than 2,000 miles of shoreline; an estimated
better than 30,000 lakes, and unnumbered miles of
rivers and streams. Our underground waters produce
over 80 per cent of our drinking water, and many of
our underground waters have been grossly polluted by
domestic and industrial wastes through drainage wells.
Many of our rivers, lakes, harbors, bays and bayous
have been grossly polluted, but we in Florida are
justly proud of our recent advancements in this field.
In 1940, only 9.7 per cent of our sewered population
was served by adequate sewage treatment. In 1954,
we had raised this percentage from 9.7 to 62.3 per
cent even though, during this period, our population
more than doubled.
During 1954 we had 39 new sewage treatment
plants going into service or under construction and,
of these, 27 were to serve subdivisions. Most of our
larger cities are now served. Miami has underway a
$27,000,000 sewerage program; St. Petersburg and
Pensacola, and many other cities also have new sewage
treatment plants under construction. We now have
approximately 200 sizable sewage treatment plants
in operation-municipal, institutional, and large sub-
division plants. In 1954 we experienced a growth in
number of plants of 29 per cent. All but a few of
our Florida pollution sore spots from domestic sewage
have promise of being resolved in the near future.
Aside from the $27 million program started in
Miami in 1952, the State Board of Health in 1954 ap-
proved 126 separate projects estimated to cost $17,-
901,544. This dollar volume may not be impressive.
For Florida, however, it is a significant march out of
the era of septic tanks into a healthy period of progress.
Back in 1920, the population of Florida was just
under a million people (968,470), and we had a rather
healthy and slow growth to 1940 when the population
reached 1,897,414-approximately a 51 per cent growth
in 20 years. In 1950, the population was 2,771,305
which gave a per cent increase in 10 years of 46.1. By
1954, the population had increased to three and a half
million which is a 29 per cent increase in four years.
While the per cent of increase fell off during the past
four years, the total population increase was 800,000
or 200,000 average each year which is equivalent to
1100 families per week. During 1954 it is estimated
that the increase was approximately 250,000 people
that year or 1500 families per week. If this rate con-
tinues, we will have five million people in Florida by
1960, and by 1970 we will have seven and a half mil-
In the last 100 years of sanitation history, environ-
mental control as well as water-pollution control has
undergone many changes and transitions. The pace
of progress in sanitary engineering is quickening and
shows signs of gathering even greater momentum in
the years ahead. The environmental engineer and
the water pollution engineer whose activities extend
into the social and economic, as well as the physical
aspects of the community, will bring credit to his
profession, enlarge his own horizon and serve the
people beyond the call of duty.