How often do we get up in the morning and go into the bathroom
or kitchen and turn on a water tap? How often do we think to be
grateful for the stream of clear, fresh water flowing right into our
house? For many people in the world, and certainly through
history, it would be a major miracle.
According to Water.org, 884 million people, or one in every eight,
lack access to safe water supplies. More people die each year
from water-related diseases than in wars. During a five-minute
shower, we can use more water than a slum dweller in a
developing country uses all day.
Cities need a healthy water supply, so most of the worldâ€™s
cities are located on or near rivers. Rome, for instance, is on the
River Tiber. According to Frontius, â€œfor 441 years . . ., the
Romans were satisfied with the use of such waters as they drew
from the Tiber, from wells, and from springs.â€� However,
Rome, like many other cities, eventually outgrew their supply and
began searching for water further afield.
In 312 B.C., Appius Claudius Caecus was elected to serve a joint
term as censor with Gaius Plautus, supervising and maintaining
public works. Claudius would build a road, and Plautus, find a
new source of water.
To avoid corruption, the term of censor had been reduced from
five years to 18 months, too short a time for much to be
accomplished. At the end of that term, Plautus resigned. Claudius
had completed his road, called in his honor the Appian Way, as
far as Capua. He then stayed on to finish Plautusâ€™ acqueduct.
Plautus had found some springs about ten miles east of Rome.
Claudius built a system, mostly underground, for water to flow into
the city to meet the needs of its growing population, becoming â
€œthe man who brought water to Rome.â€�
Thanks to Claudius, â€œThe ancient Romans had better water
quality than half the people alive now.â€�
20th Century Los Angeles
In 1913, the first Los Angeles aqueduct was completed after five
yearsâ€™ effort and at a cost of less than $23 million. It was built
by William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant who had started as a
ditch digger for the Los Angeles City Water Company.
By age 31, he had risen to superintendent and begun to search for
a new water source. Though he had no formal engineering
training, Mulholland educated himself in geology, hydraulics and
engineering in the public library.
A former mayor, Fred Eaton, convinced Mulholland that the
Owens River could provide a reliable source. After securing land
and water rights, the voters passed a bond measure to fund
construction by a 10-1 margin.
President Theodore Roosevelt determined that Los Angeles would
have the rights despite opposition from people in the Owens
Valley, who felt their water was being stolen.
Organizing and supervising up to 3,900 construction workers at a
time, Mulholland built the 233-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct over six
years. It was completed ahead of time and under budget, the
largest and most difficult municipal engineering project in U.S. at
In the dedicatory address on November 5, 1913, Mulholland told
residents that the aqueduct was dedicated to â€œyou and your
children and your childrenâ€™s children for all time. . . . There it
is. Take it,â€� he exclaimed.
Claudius's aqueduct near the wealthy
Palatine Hill (above) and a surviving part
of a Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain.
William Mulholland (above) and the
First Los Angeles Aqueduct (right).