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Sat, May 28


Virtual Lecture

New Jersey's Drinking Water Crisis of 1876

In 1876 the struggle to find healthy water supplies led to the foundation of 13 major reservoirs in northern New Jersey.

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New Jersey's Drinking Water Crisis of 1876
New Jersey's Drinking Water Crisis of 1876

Time & Location

May 28, 2022, 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

Virtual Lecture

About the Event

New Jersey has long depended on surface water for much of its potable water supplies. By 1876 the links between pure water and health were well established, but the underlying microbiology was only dimly understood. In 1876 the New Jersey Geological Survey was forced to find ways of measuring the disease-causing potential of a water supply without actually knowing exactly how diseases were transmitted. The task was given urgency as many cities relied on the Passaic River, which by 1874 could not supply potable water anywhere below the city of Paterson. Searching for an alternative source of supply, Geological Survey chemists analyzed water samples from wells and rivers throughout the region. Based on these results the Geological Survey recommended the upper Passaic River basin as the new source of domestic water. These recommendations led directly to the construction of reservoirs in northern New Jersey. Today there are 13 major reservoirs in with a combined storage capacity of 76.2 billion gallons.

Kevin Olsen is the Instrumentation Specialist on the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department’s support staff at Montclair State University. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire and a Master’s degree in chemistry from Montclair State University. He completed his Environmental Management PhD at Montclair State in the spring of 2014. His most recent book is Rails to Sterling Forest, published by the Garbely Publishing Company in 2020. Rails to Sterling Forest tells the complex history of the Erie Railroad's Greenwood Lake Branch. As an historian Kevin has published a number of papers related to chemical history and New Jersey’s maritime history. His work has appeared in the American Neptune, The Encyclopedia of New Jersey, and the Highlander. He is the author of A Great Conveniency, Maritime History of the Hackensack River, Passaic River, and Newark Bay. His papers on chemical history have appeared in the Bulletin for the History of Chemistry. When not enjoying researching history, he enjoys skiing, sailing, great books, good beer, and very bad golf.

This event will be hosted VIRTUALLY via WebEx. Registration is through Eventbrite. Follow the link below or click on the RSVP button to register. Those who register will receive a link upon registration. The session will also be live-streamed on the Dey Mansion Facebook page at

Link: New Jersey's Drinking Water Crisis of 1876

This event is FREE and sponsored by the Passaic County Board of County Commissioners & Friends of Dey Mansion, Inc.

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