For thousands of years, humans have been developing new ways to gain access to water.
The Romans engineered aqueducts to transport water to populated areas. Today, evidence of these impressive engineering marvels are still scattered throughout areas once under Roman control. According to National Geographic, this includes parts of modern-day France, Spain, Greece, North Africa and Turkey. These complex systems date back to 312 B.C., and some are even still functional today.
Time for Change
Slowly, we began to understand the negative effects of drinking contaminated water. In 1855, Dr. John Snow discovered that cholera was a waterborne disease. In the 1880s, Louis Pasteur publicized “germ theory” enforced the need for stricter water treatment. Both of these discoveries encouraged further focus on the practices of clean water.
Early on, many natural methods were used to remove bacteria and pathogens from drinking water. Examples of natural solutions included riverbank filtration and slow sand filters. These methods are found to be effective and are still used in some developing areas of the world today. Early methods focused on the physical appearance of the water but did not necessarily remove the bacteria we can’t see. As technology progressed, using chemicals to treat water became a more effective solution.
Let’s Get Chemical
In 1908, chlorine was used to treat drinking water for the first time. According to the CDC , by 1995 around 64% of all community water systems in the U.S. used chlorine to disinfect water.
Around the time of chlorine’s initial use, ozone was beginning to be used as a means of water treatment in Europe. The United States did not adopt ozone until a few decades later. Ozone is a more powerful disinfectant than chlorine and many other chemical alternatives. In the 1970s and 1980s, advancements were made in ozone technology that spurred an increase in the use of ozonation for water treatment.
- In 1914, the U.S. federal government began regulating drinking water. Public Health Services began expanding these regulations.
- In the 1960s the impact of man made chemicals is felt on the water supply.
- A water system survey by Public Health Service in 1969 revealed the deficiencies of water treatment plants, both large and small. Over half of water treatment facilities surveyed had major deficiencies.
- In 1974, Congress passed one of the most comprehensive water legislation on the books to date, the Safe Drinking Water Act.
- In the 1970s and 1980s, advancements were made in ozone technology that spurred an increase in the use of ozonation for water treatment.
The Center for Disease Control has listed water treatment as one of the most significant public health advancements of the 20th Century.
- EPA History of Drinking Water: https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/200024H9.TXT?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=2000+Thru+2005&Docs=&Query=&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=1&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5Czyfiles%5CIndex%20Data%5C00thru05%5CTxt%5C00000001%5C200024H9.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h%7C-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=hpfr&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=1&SeekPage=x&ZyPURL
- The History and Future of Drinking Water: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rearvision/the-history-and-future-of-drinking-water/6374830
- National Geographic Roman Aqueducts: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/roman-aqueducts/
- Turbidity: https://water.usgs.gov/edu/turbidity.html
- Riverbank Filtration Technology: https://www.wwdmag.com/filters/riverbank-filtration-technology
- Slow Sand Filtration: https://www.sswm.info/sswm-university-course/module-6-disaster-situations-planning-and-preparedness/further-resources-0/slow-sand-filtration
- Disinfection with Chlorine: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/chlorine-disinfection.html