The Advent of Municipal Water Treatment
Long before Snow
linked cholera deaths
to poor water quality, people were beginning to suggest that
pure water be provided to every household through some sort
of citywide water filtration. The supposition that every person
deserved clean water to drink and bathe in was related to the
general philosophical themes of the Enlightenment period in
Europe. During the Age of Enlightenment of the sixteenth through
eighteenth centuries, philosophers ruminated over the natural
rights of all humanity. The right to clean, pure water began
to be associated with these innate rights of all humanity. Such
philosophical discussions led the French scientist La
Hire to propose that every French household have a sand
water filter installed that would provide clean water to that
household. Sand filters had become the most popular method of
water filtration throughout many European towns.
About 100 years after La Hire first suggested that all citizens
should be given the right to pure water, government officials
in the United Kingdom began to wonder, also, if every household
in their domain should be provided with some kind of filtered
water. In 1804, the first citywide, municipal water treatment
plant was installed in Paisley, Scotland (Baker & Taras, 1981).
This plant would provide filtered water to every household within
the city limits. The Scottish water treatment plant depended
sand filters designed by Robert
Thom, an important scientist of the Scottish Enlightenment.
In 1827, James Simpson,
an English scientist, created a similar design to Thoms, and
the Simpson water filter models were soon implemented in municipal
water treatment plants throughout England.
The slow sand water filters designed by Thom and Simpson were very large and required frequent and extensive cleaning. Because of the growing need for filtered water, scientists in the United States designed a rapid sand filter in the late nineteenth century
(Baker & Taras, 1981). The rapid sand filter was cleaned by
powerful jet streams of water, greatly increasing the efficiency
and capacity of the water filter.