Water supply

The Timeline

1st Century: Roman aqueducts

Before the days of copper pipes, mains supply and the Brita filtered jug, water was often as deadly as an enemy's spear. The ingenious Romans hit upon a solution to their mucky water supply: they built a series of raised aqueducts to bring water to cities and garrison towns across their empire. By the third century, the Roman network of ducts was 400 miles in length.

1613: London gets a New River

London's population may have boomed in the 17th century, but its supply of clean water certainly had not. Streams were overdrawn, disease was rife. Seeing an opportunity, entrepreneur Sir Hugh Myddelton set about constructing a 10ft-wide "water channel" from Amwell Springs in Hertfordshire to London. Despite vandalism and ill-disposed citizens "casting dogs and filth" into the channel, it supplied Londoners with water until 1904.

1871: "As constant as possible"

After an outbreak of cholera in 1871, the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, rushed through the Metropolis Water Act, in an attempt to stem the rise of the disease. No longer could water be drawn willy-nilly: national plumbing standards were instituted; water supplies were to be "as constant as possible", and a water examiner was appointed to ensure that turning on a tap didn't amount to dicing with death.

1910: The rise of the pipe

By the 20th century, wells and streams were out and the tap was in. As water chlorination became the norm and pipe networks were enlarged, private industry once again saw an opportunity: within a decade, there were 180 bodies supplying water. Standards, however, varied massively. The government stepped in to ensure a uniformity of service, slowly nationalising the water companies.

1973: The Water Act

After 60 years of confusion, Parliament finally passed legislation to simplify Britain's water supply. The hefty 1973 Water Act split England into 10 water regions, each with its own authority charged with maintaining supply and storing adequate quantities of water.

2011: Goodbye dripping tap?

The British Government moots plans for compulsory water meters in all homes, the suggestion being that the change will reduce water consumption by around 18 litres per person per day and help to conserve the nation's ecologically important waterways.