Talking with Jim Sherwood and Charles "Chuck" Simpkins, both were chemists at the Warren Water Filtration Plant on Elm Road (put into service in 1954), I told them of an experience in a city in another state. It involved drawing a glass of cold water from a tap in a third-floor bathroom of a 1906 house. The water contained a fragment of wood! "It couldn't be," I said to myself, but there it was. I didn't measure it at the time. My recall is that the sliver of wood was an eighth of an inch long, maybe longer.
Both men, being cautious and trained in the scientific method, did not readily respond to the incident I spoke of. Their silence caused me to wonder if they doubted the truth of my statement. When each spoke it was in measured words saying, "That couldn't be but you know what you saw in the glass. Let's think about it."
At the time I found the fragment of wood, 45 years ago, people felt confident that the city water filtration system was efficient and provided safe water. The men thought there might still have been some old wooden pipes the water passed through, between the filtration plant and the house, which produced the fragment, or, though not provable, that repair work someplace along the line had accidentally allowed the fragment to enter the system. The puzzle was not solved, but we did our best.
The history of drinking water, its safety, transportation and usage in growing population areas is fascinating. What would the Trumbull County settlers in the early 1800s have thought of a future dam on Mosquito Creek, creating a 12-square-mile reservoir near the center of our county 140 years later? They probably couldn't have thought it possible. Stone aqueducts transported fresh water from the Apennine Mountains in central Italy for many miles to the city of Rome 2,000 years ago, while many places in central Africa still have dangerously polluted water. The Africans have no capital available to construct a filtration plant or pipe for the water, no skilled personnel to cope with the bacteria, viruses and quality of taste.
Modern water treatment began following an 1854 epidemic of cholera in London, England, which relied on raw water from the River Thames. Warren's water travels conveniently a dozen miles from the reservoir to the various households and industrial points of use and is made potable and safe by a responsible and well-trained staff at our modern and constantly up-dated treatment plant. How fortunate we are.
In India, glacial meltwater is the primary source of water for millions of people. With the glaciers receding, their supply of water may be in jeopardy. The oil-rich countries in the arid Middle East use some desalinization to convert saltwater to fresh. All large new cruise ships have onboard desalinization units now. Desalinization is costly, but it does the job for small populations. Our American Southwest has growing populations and a growing dependency on snowmelt for irrigation, drinking water and industrial use.
One wonders how states like Arizona and California, being so dependent on unpredictable supplies of water in the face of growing populations and luxurious lifestyles, can anticipate a successful future.
Sherwood retired in 2006 after 30 years. Simpkins, age 91, was his predecessor as chemist at the Warren Filtration Plant and also a 30-year man. Simpkins started in 1942 at the old filtration plant, formerly located at Mahoning and Summit streets in Warren. That plant had been built in the 1880s and drew raw water from the Mahoning River. Simpkins started as a clean-up man. By dint of conscientious work on the job, independent study and success in passing four state of Ohio qualifying tests, he became the plant's chemist in due course. (Think how proud of that achievement he must have been!) Sherwood had the benefit of a Hiram College degree in chemistry.
These two men are a font of knowledge of modern day professional water treatment. They and their dedicated Water Department coworkers have had the benefit of overview and standards set by state and federal health authorities, and we are the ultimate beneficiaries.