Summer days often elicit thinking about water and its various presentations in our lives. The weather brings ideas about swimming, boating, rafting, and all the "lake activities at the cabin up north" The warm summer temperatures stimulate water considerations in our personal lives including water safety and body hydration.
That primary need for adequate hydration during the increased activities in warmer temperatures has created the many types of hydrating liquids we use or abuse in quenching our thirst and enjoying summer's unique meals. In more pensive moments, we might think about public water supplies, water usage and water treatments to prevent pollution and restore pure recycling of our water. Notably, recent activities for expansion of the water sources and supply for the city of Marshall have been reported in the local media.
A recent review of the medical history of Marshall brought to mind the cavalier and often thoughtless attitude most population centers formerly exhibited toward water supplies and its discharge. The infamous "Great Stink of London of 1851" led to drastic and continuing changes by the government regarding water usage and discharge into the Thames river as recently as the Millennium.
A postcard in my Marshall Medical History Collection dated October, 1910, documents a Marshall citizen's lament of the death of three local mothers to typhoid fever. Ironically, the reverse side of the card shows the responsible outhouses within the yards (and wells) of several houses just a few blocks from the soon-to-be-opened Marshall Hospital!
Accentuating local aspects of water management and public health have been two events of recent history encountered here in Marshall. The recurring projects of reconstruction of water-related infrastructures (water supply, sanitary and storm sewerage) in areas of Marshall have given us a new appreciation for the logistics of water handling. Reviewing the history, planning, and execution of this reconstruction of the vast system of water-carrying pipes, drains, lifts, valves, etc., and treatment facilities in a city transversed by a flowing river should make us appreciate how intricate is the system which obtains, uses, separates, removes and treats the water not only to purify it, but then efficiently recycle it while protecting those of us who drink it. These projects remind us of some of the intriguing aspects of Marshall's history of water needs and behavior.
In 1930, Marshall public health physician Dr. B.C. Ford told an audience of Marshall clubwomen that the water problems had been getting more acute and "this year we have had the worst, most unsanitary [water supply]. We have had several outbreaks of dysentery, probably due to the water supply" In recent years, work on the sixth street infrastructure required a temporary altering of the flow of the Redwood River. When placing new sewerage under the river, city engineers discovered the site of an old dam used to control water flow and the former site of the dumping of raw sewage into the river! (The river was the source of Marshall's water!) As described in John Radzilowski's book, "Prairie Town: A History of Marshall, Minnesota 1872-1997" (Lyon County Historical Society, 1997), "The city sewerswould empty into the Redwood RiverFlood waters would quickly overburden the city's sanitary sewer and send fetid sewage into people's home and businesses Beginning in 1931 the city constructed a sewage treatment plant, and in 1933, [the city] drilled a well tapping the Marshall Aquifer, providing a large supply of clean water."
The lesson for us "moderns" is that only by ongoing attention to the uses and treatment of our water supply and the operation of appropriate public health measures can we ensure optimal general health and welfare and freedom from waterborne disease for our communities.
During the upcoming summer months, this column will discuss several aspects of water as it affects our daily lives. Topics such as water sources, usage, pollution, and the important role of water in personal and public health considerations should provide interest and information to our reading public.