Pittsburgh Water Quality: Yesterday
Since the area’s first settlement by its native people, residents have drawn water from the historic Allegheny river. In the 17th century, local spring water often tasted of Sulphur, but wells – which relied on underground water and could offset the taste – were difficult to dig. For sanitary reasons and against the ever-present danger of fire, officials established its first formal system, consisting of four 47-foot deep wells with pumps, in 1802. But the city’s blooming population soon outgrew this simple system, and in 1828, the city unveiled a river pumping station and a 1-million-gallon reservoir. This process would continue to grow and expand into Pittsburgh’s current water management system, which produces 70 million gallons of water daily.
The 19th century saw another hurdle arise for the city’s water managers: waterborne illness. Likewise, contamination of the Allegheny reached such disastrous levels that the need for a treatment plant and process became obvious. After years of debate over design, Pittsburgh’s first filtration and treatment plant was constructed in 1907. By the 1950s, the area’s water, formerly only treated with chlorine, needed a purification upgrade: Alum was introduced into the process – until the construction of a full chemical treatment plant arrived in 1962.