What Were The Problems With Water Usage In The 1800s?

This project is intended to introduce students to the environmental effects of late-nineteenth-century industrial and urban expansion. Students will learn about the terrible consequences of industrial pollution on Philadelphia’s drinking water supply in the late 1800s, as well as the solutions that were implemented to enhance public health. They’ll rely on original sources from the Philadelphia Water Department and the Philadelphia County Medical Society, both of which were published in 1885. A “Sanitary Survey” quantifies the chemicals thrown into the Schuylkill River, while an address to the County Medical Society describes pollution’s deadly effects.


Understanding Pennsylvania’s past requires a combination of textual evidence, material artifacts, the built environment, and historic locations.

Long-term continuities and discontinuities in Pennsylvania society make significant contributions to current concerns. Continuity and change can be seen in belief systems and religion, commerce and industry, innovations, settlement patterns, social organization, transportation and trade, and equality.

An analytical thinker uses historical skills to construct a historical construction (organizing information chronologically, explaining historical issues, locating sources and investigating materials, synthesizing and evaluating evidence, and developing arguments and interpretations based on evidence).


Examine a primary source for accuracy and bias before connecting it to a specific time and location in Pennsylvania.

Apply the topic of change and continuity to Pennsylvania history, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of your case.

Analyze how cultural, economic, geographic, political, and social interactions interact for a certain time and place.

Background Material for Teacher

William Penn’s city was surveyed in 1683 on the narrowest strip of land between the Delaware and the Schuylkill rivers. The settlement grew around the Delaware River port, relying on wells or groundwater for fresh, clean water rather than rivers. By 1800, the city had abandoned well water, which was assumed to be tainted by seepage from privies, in favor of a new source of pure drinking water: the Schuylkill River.

In 1801 in Centre Square (where City Hall now stands), the first successful municipal pumping station was built. In 1815, a new pumping station was built along the Schuylkill River’s banks to replace it. The Fairmount Water Works drew pure water directly from the river into a reservoir that now houses the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was then gravity-fed to homes, businesses, and street hydrants via a network of underground pipelines. To secure the water supply, the city purchased land upstream of Fairmount on both sides of the Schuylkill River. Fairmount Park was finally built on this plot of land.

The city’s limits were enlarged from 2 square miles to 130 square miles by the 1854 Act of Consolidation. At the same period, Philadelphia’s population expanded, reaching over half a million people. Roads, railroads, and over 100 miles of canals, dams, and locks were built along the Schuylkill River as a result of immigration, industry, and easy access to natural resources. The city grew as a center for consumer products and industrial machinery production.

Large-scale enterprises in Philadelphia fostered a vibrant economy and fast growth. Smaller cities upstream dumped rubbish into the river all throughout the river valley. By the late 1800s, the Schuylkill River, which had become an open, dirty sewer, supplied 95 percent of Philadelphia’s drinking water. The sickness was spread by the contaminated water. Typhoid fever, a waterborne infection, was killing people at alarmingly high rates. It was clear that something had to be done.

Medical specialists, sanitary engineers, municipal council members, progressive women’s organizations, and even private filter firms all weighed in on the issue: purify the water or find a new source. By 1900, the city council of Philadelphia had finally decided to build a municipal filtration system. This method practically eliminated typhoid, but it would take another half-century for a federal environmental program to help rebalance river ecology and emphasis on watershed management to be implemented.

Also also Adam Levine’s article “Sewers, Pollution, and Public Health in Philadelphia,” published in Pennsylvania Legacies: Pennsylvania and the Environment, Vol. 10, No. 1, May 2010.

End of Unit Assessment

Present the students with the following question as an end-of-unit assessment: How have we acquired a more balanced sense of environmental stewardship today than in the past? Before they leave class, have them put their responses on an exit card to hand in. Alternatively, students can look into commercial solutions such as water filters or bottled water that have been developed in response to current public health issues. Inquire of the students about the products that are being advertised. Do they believe their claims are plausible? In 19th-century Philadelphia, would a private entrepreneurial solution have been a preferable option?

What is the issue with water consumption?

Water comprises 70% of our world, and it’s simple to assume that it will always be abundant. Freshwater, on the other hand, is extremely scarce. We drink it, bathe in it, and use it to irrigate our farm areas. Fresh water makes up only 3% of the world’s water, and two-thirds of that is frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for human consumption.

As a result, 1.1 billion people around the world lack access to water, while 2.7 billion face water scarcity for at least one month of the year. For 2.4 billion people, poor sanitation is an issue, exposing them to diseases like cholera and typhoid fever, as well as other water-borne disorders. Each year, two million people, largely children, die from diarrheal illnesses.

Many of the water systems that keep ecosystems alive and sustain an ever-increasing human population are under strain. Rivers, lakes, and aquifers are drying out or polluted to the point of becoming unusable. Over half of the world’s wetlands are vanished. Agriculture uses the most water of any source, and much of it is wasted due to inefficiencies. Climate change is changing weather and water patterns all throughout the world, resulting in water shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others.

This scenario will only worsen if consumption continues at its current rate. Two-thirds of the world’s population may face water scarcity by 2025. Ecosystems all throughout the world will be harmed considerably more.

What are the two most serious water issues?

The Roots of the Water Crisis

  • Pollution of the water supply. Because of poor sanitation and a lack of waste treatment plants, most rural water sources are severely polluted.
  • Overdrafting of groundwater
  • Water waste and overuse.
  • Settlements of humans.

What are the consequences of excessive water use?

In many regions of the world, water extraction for home, food, and industrial purposes has a significant impact on ecosystems. This is true even in areas that aren’t considered “water scarce.” Water scarcity has a number of severe environmental consequences, including harm to lakes, rivers, ponds, wetlands, and other fresh water resources. The increasing salinity, nutrient pollution, and loss of floodplains and wetlands that arise from water shortage, which is typically found in areas of irrigation agriculture, impacts the ecosystem in various ways. Furthermore, water constraint complicates flow management in urban stream rehabilitation.

Are we going to run out of water?

While our globe may never run out of water as a whole, it’s crucial to realize that pure freshwater isn’t always available where and when humans require it. In fact, only six countries contain half of the world’s freshwater. Over a billion people do not have access to adequate safe, clean water.

What causes a shortage of water?

Water Scarcity’s Major Causes Droughts and floods are examples of natural disasters. Human consumption has increased. Water wastage and overuse. An increase in worldwide freshwater demand.

Is it possible that we will run out of water by 2050?

According to UN forecasts, the global population reached 6.2 billion in 2000, 7 billion in 2012, and will reach 9.5 billion (0.4) in 2050 and 11 billion (1.5) in 2100. After 2100, worldwide demographic growth will continue, although Africa will be the only continent where population growth will continue after 2060. The amount of water consumed annually to meet the demands varies widely between countries, ranging from 600 to 2,500 m3/year per capita, depending on their wealth, food habits (especially meat consumption), and the percentage of food waste they produce. In the year 2000, total food output was estimated to be around 3,300 million tons (in cereal equivalents). In 2019, around 0.8 billion people on the earth are still hungry and do not receive the nutrients they require to maintain good health or, in the case of children, to grow correctly (both physically and intellectually). Assuming a global average water consumption for food of 1,300 m3/year in 2000, 1,400 m3/year in 2050, and 1,500 m3/year in 2100, a volume of water of roughly 8,200 km3/year was required in 2000, 13,000 km3/year in 2050, and 16,500 km3/year in 2100 will be required. Is there going to be that much water on the planet? Can there be conflicts as a result of a food shortage? From the perspective of a hydrologist, some basic solutions and possibilities for food production will be provided.

What states will be the first to run out of water?

We’ve discussed the California drought in previous pieces, but it’s important to remember that California is only one of a few states that are experiencing water shortages. Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, and Nevada are among these states. So, how does this affect us?

Drought-affected drinking water is just one of the challenges. Crop and pasture losses are a strain on our food chain as well as a threat to farmers’ capacity to survive and produce. With water levels dangerously low, we must raise awareness of our need for and scarcity of water before it is too late.

Water waste reduction is a critical component of a water bottling system. Many people are unaware that purified water has a cost, in the form of water waste during the purification process, and that cost is borne by the environment. Many restaurants are moving to more environmentally friendly restaurant bottled water equipment, not just to save money but also to improve efficiency. In the house, bottled water systems are also becoming more popular.

When buying a water or water purification system, keep in mind the machine’s environmental impact. Don’t take water for granted; it may be too late before you realize it.

Vero water is gradually becoming the name in clean, refreshing, and cost-effective business and personal hydration when it comes to bottled water systems. Many of the country’s greatest restaurants and hospitality companies agree. Vero saves its customers money while while providing a technologically advanced, environmentally conscious, and sophisticated filtered water experience. Visit Vero Water’s website, as well as their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram sites, to discover more.

How does water get squandered?

In a typical household, it is possible to waste a significant quantity of water each day due to aging fixtures, inefficient appliances, poor plumbing, and old habits. A toilet with a broken flapper valve, for example, can waste gallons of water every hour as it runs and refills the tank on a regular basis. Here are ten ways you can be squandering water without realizing it:

1) Using your toilet to dispose of trash. Toilets are the largest source of water use in your home, accounting for over a third of total indoor consumption. You squander five to seven liters of water every time you flush a face tissue or feminine product. It’s also harmful for your pipes and drains to flush anything other than human excrement and toilet paper!

2) Taking long baths and showers. Consider the following scenario: The average shower in the United States uses 17.2 gallons of water and lasts up to 8 minutes, which is a lot of water.

3) Standard showerheads. Switching to a low-flow showerhead, which uses roughly 2 gallons of water per minute, is a good idea.

4) Pipes that are leaking. According to US News, the average residence can leak over 10,000 gallons of water every year. It’s critical to keep an eye out for leaks near your toilet, faucets, hose bibbs, and any other frequently used plumbing item. Repair or replace leaking water pipes as soon as possible, and monitor your monthly water account for concealed leaks.

5) Loads of laundry that are just half-filled. Make sure every load of laundry you do is fairly full. In the long run, this will be more cost-effective.

6) Using a dishwasher that isn’t fully loaded. Before you start the dishwasher, make sure it’s entirely full. In fact, if a “normal cycle isn’t required, you should try running it on a “light cycle.”

7) Dishwashing under running water. Fill your sink with soap and water and soak your dishes instead. Go ahead and wash them off after a few minutes!

8) Toilets in the traditional sense. An older toilet may use up to 2 gallons more water per flush than a contemporary low-flush or high-efficiency toilet.

9) Allowing your lawn to become overwatered. Watering your grass in the morning (5-10 a.m.) is preferable in the summer because the air is cooler and water evaporates more slowly. Furthermore, watering should be done no more than twice a week… MAX!

10) Brushing your teeth while running water. Simply remember yourself to switch off the water while brushing your teeth if you have a tendency of doing so. There is no reason for the water to be running if you think about it.