Rome’s water supply starts in Lewis County, ends at faucets

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The water supply for Rome area residents was simply a pump powered by a paddle wheel at Ridge Mills, back in 1872. It later advanced to a gravity-fed system, with water flowing via a tunnel from Lewis County. Today, it’s a sophisticated system that includes technology that was the first of its kind on the East Coast, and was the biggest in the U.S. when it started in 1987.

More information about the water supply, from the city of Rome website, from an online presentation on Facebook by Jon Putnam of GHD engineering for the Rome Historical Society, from society files, and from Rome Sentinel news stories, and other sources:

-- Ridge Mills, 1872.

The water supply for Rome came from the Mohawk River starting in 1872, until 1909. Water was taken from the river by use of a paddle wheel power driven pump. Some remains of this building -- which was gutted by fire in 1957 -- can be seen behind Olney’s Flowers, 2002 N. James St., and also from the Pennystreet Road bridge.

The water was pumped to a 7-million gallon reservoir on the corner of Madison Street and Black River Boulevard. That area is just behind where Papa Rick’s Ice Cream Stand is located now. The old brick building still standing there is the old pump house.

-- Fish Creek, Kessinger Dam, town of Lee, 1909.

In 1909 the city of Rome wanted to expand its water supply and get it from the east branch of Fish Creek. Kessinger Dam was built on the Fish Creek in Annsville in1910, and water was diverted into a one mile-long rock tunnel. The six-foot wide tunnel was dug out by hand through slate rock. The rail tracks of a coal cart could still be seen in the tunnel, until they were removed in 2015. At the end of the tunnel there is a concrete device that connects to a 48-inch pipe. That pipe stretches seven miles to a 15 million-gallon reservoir in the town of Lee, still in use today.

The old reservoir in Rome was used as a swimming pool until the 1950s.

--Lee, Lewis County, 1937 - 1964.

In 1937, Rome wanted to expand its water system once again. At this time they built a 50 million-gallon reservoir across from the 15 million gallon reservoir in Lee. Water lines were also expanded by adding a 30-inch water line that fed into the city.

In 1957, the city bought 725 acres of land in Lewis County to create a watershed that would increase the water capacity to the plant. Boyd Dam was built with a capacity to hold 1.5 billion gallons of water. This project was completed in 1959 at a cost of $2 million.

Boyd Dam impounds the 1 billion-gallon, 400-acre Lake Tagasoke in Lewis County. (Tagasoke is an Indian word, meaning “Meeting of the Waters.”)The water flows into the East Branch of Fish Creek. It is then impounded by Kessinger Dam from where it flows into the six-foot rock tunnel to the Lee reservoirs.

In 1964 the city found a need to increase the flow of the water supply from Kessinger Dam to the reservoirs. A 48-inch pipe was installed and the old pipe was sealed off. At the same time, a small building was built that would feed chlorine and ammonia to the water for disinfection purposes.

-- Frank Clark Water Filtration Facility, Lee, 1987.

In 1985 regulations for safe drinking water increased, and the city of Rome broke ground for a state-of-the-art water filtration plant using eight filters with upflow clarifiers and filter media filtration.

The water plant went online in 1987 and was the first type of this kind on the East
Coast and was the biggest at the time in the United States. Part of this new process included adding chemicals to the treatment process to help filter out dirt particles and organic material. The plant was dedicated as the Frank Clark Water Filtration Facility on August 1987.Clark was a long-time former city engineer.

In 2015 the city had the old slate rock tunnel rehabilitated, due to deterioration, at a cost of $13.6 million. The work was overseen by Jon Putnam, an engineer with the Syracuse firm of GHD. It included the installation of phones, for better communication inside the tunnel, and the lining of the rock walls with a spray-on concrete.

Today the Water Plant operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, providing clean water that meets state requirements for safe drinking water. It is staffed by a chief operator and eight shift operators, all certified by the State of New York Department of Health in water treatment and testing. It is maintained by the Chief Water Treatment Plant Operator Tim Dombrowski and Assistant Chief Jon Hill. The water plant processes between 9 and 16 million gallons of water a day depending on the needs of the city and the people that buy water from the city.

Rome’s system provides water to about 32,000 customers inside and outside the city -- the Towns of Lee, Floyd, Westmoreland, Whitestown and parts of Westernville. They use about 9 million gallons of water daily on average. The plant filters water on pace with usage, but can filter up to 18 million gallons daily. The plant also maintains the pair of reservoirs in Lee that hold a total of 65 million gallons of treated water.

This column was written by Chip Twellman Haley, retired Daily Sentinel news editor, utilizing the Rome Historical Society archive. Comments, old photos, suggestions for future columns or guest columns may be emailed to:chiphaley@yahoo.com. Copies of the books “Rome Through Our History, Volumes I and II,” collections of some of Haley’s columns, may be purchased from the Rome Historical Society.

The Rome Historical Society, 200 Church St., is temporarily closed until further notice, due to COVID. Go online at www.romehistoricalsociety.org, visit their Facebook page, or call 336-5870 for more information.

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