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Sewer System and Other Utility Projects, 1936 Report

During the past year communities in all parts of the country have been enabled by emergency relief funds to improve their sewer systems and other public utilities and at the same time work has been provided for the unemployed.

Activity of the WPA in the public utility field has made possible the correction and replacement of faulty systems in urban areas and has enabled townships and rural communities to modernize their facilities. Serious health menaces have been eliminated through some of the projects; through others, a more ample water supply for fire protection has been assured in localities where it has been inadequate. Hundreds of dollars have been saved taxpayers through the discovery and repair of leaks in the main water lines.

Public utility projects constitute about a tenth of the entire WPA program. They consist of construction and improvement of water purification and supply systems, sewer systems, and electric power generation and distribution facilities.

Construction of a Sewerage Disposal Plant

Photo 1: Construction of a Sewerage Disposal Plant

Sewer Systems

Construction and repair of sewer systems represent about two-thirds of the cost of all WPA public utility projects. Work on sewer systems includes repair of leaks, rectification of improper drainage, clearance of ditches and storm sewers, extension of sewer lines, installation of manholes to allow for more efficient flushing, and construction of storm sewers to prevent the flooding of streets.

The replacement of a 67-year-old sewer in the center of the business section of Utica, New York, is one of the types of sewer system work done by the WPA. Since the installation of the original system in 1869, many buildings have been erected in the vicinity with their cellars below the level of the old pipe line, necessitating replacement of the line at twice the original depth.

Plans called for six weeks' operation, but in order not to hinder business unduly it was decided to prosecute the project continuously in three 8-hour shifts by the use of flares and electric lights. This procedure resulted in less than a week's delay to traffic in that congested section.

Six feet below the surface, platforms were erected on which to load dirt temporarily before bringing it to the street level. Pipes were placed, manholes were constructed so that lateral outlets could be connected, and the trench was backfilled carefully in order that the top dressing could be spread with minimum delay. The project was completed at a cost of $3,986, several hundred dollars less than originally estimated.

Foundation for a Reservoir

Photo 2: Foundation for a Reservoir

Water Systems

Projects involving construction and improvement of water purification and supply systems represent nearly a fourth of the total estimated cost of WPA public utility projects. The scope of these projects varies from the extension of existing systems to the design and construction of complete new systems with pipe lines, pumping stations, and reservoirs.

One small township in West Virginia was recently faced with the problem of obtaining a new source of water supply. A mining company a short distance away had provided water for the town for many years at the high average rate of $2.50 per 1,000 gallons. Water scarcity caused by drought resulted in the mine's refusal to renew the water contract.

Consequently the town arranged to obtain a plentiful supply at a much lower price from a neighboring city which has a large water plant and a good water supply. Plans are now under way for the laying of 19,500 feet of 3-inch water mains to connect the town with the new source of supply. The townspeople have raised the 01,850 required in addition to the $12,547 which the WPA will expend on the project. Completion of this project will result in a permanent supply of good water and a large saving on water bills.

Other Utility Projects

Electrification projects, representing not quite 2 percent of the total estimated cost of all WPA public utility projects, involve the construction of generating plants or the erection of transmission and distribution lines.


Excluding Administrative Employees

Semimonthly Period Ending August 15, 1936

(Subject to Revision)


Note A: Includes projects classifiable under more than one of the headings above.

Miscellaneous utility projects are made up of combinations of the three main types, but also include isolated instances of such work as gas development. About 5 percent of the total estimated cost of all public utility projects is to be expended on this group.

Employment and Earnings

Although some public utility projects had been started by the end of August 1935, this phase of the program did not get well under way until November. The peak in employment, totaling about 274,000 persons, was reached in the early spring of 1936 and has been followed by a gradual decline. During the two weeks ending August 15, approximately 192,000 persons were working on WPA public utility projects.

Persons working on sewer systems accounted for 72 percent of this total; those employed on water purification and supply systems constituted 21 percent. Electric utility project employees accounted for only 2 percent and the miscellaneous group for about 5 percent of this employment.

The 192,000 persons employed on public utility projects during the first half of August 1936 represented approximately 8 percent of the workers on all WPA projects. Projects of this type were operating in every State of the Union but their relative importance in the various State WPA programs varied considerably.

In six States - Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York (exclusive of New York City), and Rhode Island - and in the District of Columbia, such projects constituted a much greater portion of the program than in the country as a whole, more than 15 percent of the workers being employed on utility projects in each of these States.

In eight other States - Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, and Tennessee - however, the construction and improvement of public utilities received relatively little emphasis, employment of this type amounting to less than 3 percent of the State total.

A total of $5,050,000 was paid to WPA public utility employees for 9,713,000 hours of work during the semimonthly period ending August 15, resulting in an average hourly wage rate of 52 cents as compared to 50.6 cents for all WPA workers. The workers on electric utilities were paid the highest average rate, slightly more than 57 cents per hour, due largely to the greater proportion of skilled and technical workers employed. The table on page 17 shows the average earnings for persons employed on each type of project.

Funding Breakdown of Sewers and Other Utilites

The estimated cost of WPA public utility projects selected for operation through April 15 totaled approximately $145,000,000, or 10 percent of the cost of all WPA projects. Sponsors have assumed responsibility for nearly one-fourth of the cost of all public utility projects but have underwritten a larger proportion of the cost of water purification and supply system projects than of the other types.

Local sponsors supply a large part of the materials, supplies, and equipment necessary for the prosecution of public utility construction projects, thereby permitting the greater proportion of Federal funds to be expended for labor. Through August 1936 the value of materials, supplies, and equipment used for WPA public utility projects amounted to approximately $34,000,000, or 16 percent of the total of such costs for all WPA projects.

In addition to constituting an important portion of the WPA program, public utility projects also form a significant part of the work under the Non-Federal Division of the Public Works Administration. Water system projects are the greatest in number, while construction projects for sewer systems involve the greatest expenditure among the public utility projects prosecuted by this agency.

That phase of the WPA public utility work which consists of electric power generation and distribution finds some parallel in the work of the Rural Electrification Administration which is attempting to extend the use of electricity in rural areas. (Subsequent sections of this report discuss these PWA and Rural Electrification activities).

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