TECHNOLOGY: Towering Waterworks

The impending battle for New York jeopardizes the future of one of the most ambitious engineering projects in America: Christopher Colles' plan to provide a public water system for all the 22,000 inhabitants of New York City.

Except for a few wealthy citizens who dig private wells in their back gardens, New Yorkers get most of their water from a haphazard network of more than 100 public pumps. In addition, bands of "tea-water men" fill up their carts at springs near Fresh Water Pond, north of the city, and then sell the water...