Friday, February 26, 2016

Spirit over the waters

Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal, original Lockport Lock (American Canal Society)
I recently came across Paul Janicke's website Spirit Over the Waters, which contains libraries of cases having to do with the Lake Michigan water diversion controversies (1900-present) and related patent infringement controversies on wastewater treatment (1914-1947). The site explains the first set of cases:
Twenty percent of the world’s fresh water in the world is in the Great Lakes. That water has drawn significant interstate controversies for over 100 years. States have had recourseto the Supreme Court seven times, testing what a state can or cannot do with the water of Lake Michigan. The most important of the cases, the one between Illinois and the other lake-bordering states, was filed in 1922 and is still open today. The central issue has been the withdrawal by Illinois of significant quantities of Lake Michigan water to use as flush water for Chicago’s human and industrial wastes, sending them westward into the Mississippi .Other issues evolved as well. 
The Supreme Court has been the main decider.
In most instances of controversy the Supreme Court appointed a special master to gather the evidence and recommend resolution. The Court’s decision in each instance is readily available, but none of the underlying masters’ reports and related briefing are in the Court’s records today. For this library all the special masters’ reports, and much of the states’ briefing, has been recovered, along with significant evidentiary and background materials. It is hoped that scholars and members of the public will find this long story pertinent to contemporary discussions regarding water supply in an era of major droughts in many parts of the country.
And the second:
Arising out of the disputes between Illinois and the other Great Lakes states were patent law controversies about wastewater treatment. By about 1916 it had become clear that to reduce the amount of Lake Michigan water needed by Chicago for waste disposal, a reliable large-scale treatment method was desperately needed. Similar problems had been seen in England and elsewhere a few years earlier, and in the period 1916-1919 a British company, Jones & Attwood, was granted several U.K. and U.S. patents on the equipment needed and the treatment processes for large-scale urban environments, using variants of a method called “activated sludge,” using bacteria to do most of the cleaning work.
Meanwhile, many U.S. cities, initially unaware of Jones & Attwood’s patent efforts, began constructing activated sludge treatment plants. Some acquired patent licenses from Jones & Attwood’s patent licensing company. Others, notably Milwaukee and Chicago, decided to challenge the U.S. patents in the federal courts, leading to dozens of rulings over the period 1924-1946. The cities lost both cases and had to pay damages. 

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