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Case Study: Water Resources in the USA
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Case Study: Water Resources in the USA

It is useful to evaluate the cause and effect nature of environmental issues and solutions to those issues. Water resources history in the USA is a good case study that illustrates many of the institutional issues that occurred as we struggled (and still struggle) with controlling pollution. Below is a brief history of water resources in the USA from an institutional perspective:

o To know where we're going it's good to know where we've been
o Pre-19th century:
- up to the latter half of the 19th century, society depended on local water supplies
- water consumption was approximately 3 to 5 gallons per day per capita
- the wastewater was disposed, however it was convenient
- the problems included health, and aesthetics
- storm water sewers were in large cities but small cities just had street gutters
- this system worked because of a small decentralized population
o 1820s to 1880s:
- system stopped working for demographic and technological reasons
- urban growth escalated
- cities had to pipe in water from distant sources
- Philadelphia built the first waterworks in 1802
- by 1860 the 16 largest cities had waterworks
- water closet was first introduced in the US in 1833 and by 1880 in 25% of urban homes
- paved roads contributed to more runoff
- there was no simultaneous construction of sewers
- privy vaults, cesspools gutters, and storm sewers if they existed were used
o As a result:
- health impacts, aesthetics, and nuisance all increased
- the system stopped working
- contagionists vs anticontagionists views on disease led to a controversy on what was best solution to health problems
- controversy finally led to sanitary sewerage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
- big technology design question was whether to use combined or sanitary sewers
- the answer depended on the amount of stormwater runoff for that community
o Next problem:
- sewerage led to streams and other water bodies
- engineers believed in the self-purifying nature of water
- typhoid fever epidemics worsened
o Options to solve problem:
- use distant "clean" watershed for water supply
- treat wastewater
- treat water
o late 19th C, early 20th C:
- by beginning of WW1 the engineering view recorded in Engineering News Record:
- use dilution in the streams to deal with wastewater
- use water filtration to treat municipal water
- no wastewater treatment
- combined sewers in large cities, sanitary sewers (no storm sewers) in small cities
- 100 gallons per day per capita by 1880
o Early to mid 20th C:
- Birth of sanitary engineering as a profession in early 20th C
- mid 20th C finally decided to implement wastewater treatment
- advancement in wastewater treatment dictated by federal regulations under the Clean Water Act
- In 1985, 183 gallons per capita per day

  ©Copyright 2003 Carnegie Mellon University
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 9653194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.