The history of drinking water shows us that in today’s modern society, the instant availability of fresh drinking water without the use of complex gadgets or expensive systems is taken for granted. Just turn on a tap and hey presto! Surprisingly though, clean drinking water is a relatively recent phenomenon for household consumers. For hundreds of years, as water treatment methods have evolved, the standard of drinking water has gone from being entirely unpure to having strict legislation to protect its quality.

The first reported attempts to treat drinking water are found in ancient Greek and Sanskrit writings, dating back to 2000 B.C. The People, of that time, were aware that boiling helped to purify water and that straining methods helped to reduce visible particles, and these methods were facilitated to reduce the bad smell and taste of the water.

It wasn’t until 1627 that Sir Robert Bacon attempted to remove salt particles from seawater by a form of sand filtration. His experiments, although largely unsuccessful, sparked a revival of water treatment experimentation. Several decades later, Anton van Leeuwenhoek discovered microorganisms in water through his new invention: the microscope.

This inspired the creation of basic water filter units, made from wool, sponge and charcoal in the home. In 1804, in Scotland, the first large public water treatment plant was installed providing treated water to every resident. This revolutionary structure sparked the notion that everyone should have access to clean drinking water.

The standard of drinking water improved between 1910 and 1916, following the introduction of water chlorination and further advances in the treatment and supply of water. Water softening sodium ions were added to drinking water in 1903, which helped to remove water- hardening minerals.

In the UK in the early 1900s, many privately owned water companies were brought into public ownership, giving them access to public money needed to fund improvements such as new steel water mains, major reservoirs and double filtration operations.

ThamesThe 1973 Water Act simplified the way that water services were provided and regulated, leading to the creation of ten major water authorities in 1974, with Thames Water being the largest. To give you an idea of just how large Thames Water is :-

Each day Thames Water cleans and supplies 2.6 gigalitres of water through 288 clean water pumping stations through 31,100 km of managed water mains to 9 million customers.

The filtration system of today continues to use chlorination or other means of disinfection (i.e. ozone and chloramines). While most public water treatment plants continue to use methods that have been in existence for hundreds of years, some newer types of treatment (such as reverse osmosis) have been implemented. Water treatment methods will undoubtedly continue to evolve in coming years as newer, more efficient processes are developed.

Renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson said:-

As for many of us, clean water is so plentiful and readily available that we rarely, if ever, pause to consider what life would be like without it.

[Photos by rollingroscoe and kudoskid]