Proposal preview

Water use and the urban environment under pressure: lessons from history.

Historically, the availability of adequate water supplies, and the development of effective water treatment and waste removal technologies are critical to urbanization and economic development. The costs associated with required water technology create endogenous limits to urban growth; as these costs increase, rising rents and taxes can act as limits to city size by cutting disposable incomes and capital accumulation. Ineffective water technology intensifies urban disamenities, reducing labour productivity and human capital formation, and requiring higher urban wage premiums to attract the migrants needed to maintain city growth. In the coming century, climate change is likely to put increased pressure on all aspects of water supply and urban development. In some instances water supplies may be decreased, in others the risk of infection from water-borne parasites may increase. Severe weather events are likely to increase the pressure on urban infrastructure. The challenges cities face in securing adequate water supplies, and separating clean water from waste water are path-dependent processes, highly sensitive to initial conditions that exert a lasting impact and shape and constrain subsequent land use and choices of infrastructure. In this session, an international panel of economic, urban, and environmental historians will consider a range of cases from cities around the world, over the 19th and 20th centuries. The aim is to compare and contrast the ways in which cities have responded to events such as drought, floods and water-related diseases, to determine whether there are lessons from the past that will be useful for future responses to extreme climatic events.

Organizer(s)

  • Martin P Shanahan University of South Australia martin.shanahan@unisa.edu.au Australia
  • Lionel Frost Monash University, Australia lionel.frost@monash.edu Australia

Session members

  • Char Miller, Pomona College
  • Sok Chul Hong, Seoul National University
  • Louis P Cain, Loyola University Chicago and Northwestern University
  • Jonathan N Chapman, European University Institute
  • Andrea Gaynor, University of Western Australia
  • Sarah Hayes, Deakin University
  • Martin P Shanahan, University of South Australia

Discussant(s)

Papers

Panel abstract

In this session, economic, urban, and environmental historians will present papers that consider cases from cities around the world, that examine issues focused on water supplies, effective water treatments and waste removal technologies. Such issue were and remain, critical to urbanization and economic development. The aim is to compare and contrast the ways in which cities have responded to historical events, financial constraints or other phenomenon to determine whether there are lessons from the past that will be useful for future responses to extreme climatic events.

1st half

Recharge Zone: The Chino Basin Water Conservation District and the Evolution of Integrated Water Management in Southern California

Char Miller, Rebecca Rittenburg, Natalie Slater

The history of the Chino Basin Water Conservation District offers an intriguing opportunity to assess the larger context in which 21st Century discussions in Southern California about sustainable water management is situated. Contemporary scholarship on water management in the US west is largely focused on federal and state initiatives that developed vast systems for the distribution of water over long distances that cost billions of dollars to construct. Yet in Southern California, the historic development of water resources often has been locally conceived, constructed, and litigated--as an analysis of the dilemmas, difficulties, and disputes facing local water managers of the Chino Basin Water Conservation District reveals. By reconstructing the agency’s conflicted past and current course, this paper builds a more complex understanding of water management and conservation efforts in the Chino Basin and the larger Santa Ana River watershed.

The history of the Chino Basin Water Conservation District offers an intriguing opportunity to assess the larger context in which 21st Century discussions in Southern California about sustainable water management is situated. Contemporary scholarship on water management in the US west is largely focused on federal and state initiatives that developed vast systems for the distribution of water over long distances that cost billions of dollars to construct. Yet in Southern California, the historic development of water resources often has been locally conceived, constructed, and litigated--as an analysis of the dilemmas, difficulties, and disputes facing local water managers of the Chino Basin Water Conservation District reveals. By reconstructing the agency’s conflicted past and current course, this paper builds a more complex understanding of water management and conservation efforts in the Chino Basin and the larger Santa Ana River watershed.

Small-Scale Rural Water Supply and Development: A Historical Experience of Korea

Sok Chul Hong, Yangkeun Yun

After the Korean War, Korean government began to make investments on (large-scale) water purification plants for clean and safe water supply. But their introduction was mostly limited to urban areas due to lack of economic validity in rural areas. Instead, the government began to install small-scale water supply system in rural areas since the late 1960s. Using the historical experience, this paper investigates the effects of small-scale water supply interventions on health and human capital formation in the long-term perspectives. First, exploiting the timing and geographic variations of small-scale water facilities, we estimate that the intervention substantially reduced the incidence of typhoid fevers. Second, we compare educational attainments of cohorts born in rural areas before and after small-scale facilities were introduced by using cohort samples constructed from the 1995, 2000, 2010, and 2015 Korean population censuses. We found that early-life exposure to the intervention was beneficial to human capital formation.

After the Korean War, Korean government began to make investments on (large-scale) water purification plants for clean and safe water supply. But their introduction was mostly limited to urban areas due to lack of economic validity in rural areas. Instead, the government began to install small-scale water supply system in rural areas since the late 1960s. Using the historical experience, this paper investigates the effects of small-scale water supply interventions on health and human capital formation in the long-term perspectives. First, exploiting the timing and geographic variations of small-scale water facilities, we estimate that the intervention substantially reduced the incidence of typhoid fevers. Second, we compare educational attainments of cohorts born in rural areas before and after small-scale facilities were introduced by using cohort samples constructed from the 1995, 2000, 2010, and 2015 Korean population censuses. We found that early-life exposure to the intervention was beneficial to human capital formation.

The development of urban infrastructure in England and Wales 1848-1900.

Johnathan Chapman

The role of the British state changed radically between 1848 and 1900. Over this period, government became responsible for providing new urban infrastructure including clean water supply, waste disposal and electric lighting and for a growing range of public health services. However, rather than intervene directly, the Westminster government decentralized authority for providing and funding these critical public goods to local town councils. This paper uses a new historical dataset of town expenditure to describe and explain the effectiveness of that decentralization, highlighting the considerable difficulties the central government encountered in convincing local councils to increase public goods provision. The results show that towns' financial constraints, both in terms of the available tax base and access to borrowing, were important in limiting the level of expenditure. This suggests that greater involvement by Westminster could have been very effective in expediting improvements in urban environments.

The role of the British state changed radically between 1848 and 1900. Over this period, government became responsible for providing new urban infrastructure including clean water supply, waste disposal and electric lighting and for a growing range of public health services. However, rather than intervene directly, the Westminster government decentralized authority for providing and funding these critical public goods to local town councils. This paper uses a new historical dataset of town expenditure to describe and explain the effectiveness of that decentralization, highlighting the considerable difficulties the central government encountered in convincing local councils to increase public goods provision. The results show that towns' financial constraints, both in terms of the available tax base and access to borrowing, were important in limiting the level of expenditure. This suggests that greater involvement by Westminster could have been very effective in expediting improvements in urban environments.

2nd half

Pernicious or prudent? Australian urban sewage farms

Andrea Gaynor

This paper examines the different paths for sewage disposal taken in four Australian cities – Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. It focuses on the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth, in which deep sewerage systems were established and extended to much of the population. I am interested in the extent to which these human wastes were regarded as a resource. A degree of moral virtue was attached to sewage farms, where the sewage was used to irrigate food production. This system absolved urban residents of implication in the creation of polluting waste. There was a pragmatic imperative that the institutions be self-sustaining or ideally profitable enterprises, that created little or no health risk to nearby residents. The comparative history demonstrates that Australia’s urban political economies on the whole prioritised ‘efficient’ over ‘good’ disposal, and only in Melbourne were the barriers to more expedient ocean outfall disposal sufficient to encourage sustained...

This paper examines the different paths for sewage disposal taken in four Australian cities – Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. It focuses on the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth, in which deep sewerage systems were established and extended to much of the population. I am interested in the extent to which these human wastes were regarded as a resource. A degree of moral virtue was attached to sewage farms, where the sewage was used to irrigate food production. This system absolved urban residents of implication in the creation of polluting waste. There was a pragmatic imperative that the institutions be self-sustaining or ideally profitable enterprises, that created little or no health risk to nearby residents. The comparative history demonstrates that Australia’s urban political economies on the whole prioritised ‘efficient’ over ‘good’ disposal, and only in Melbourne were the barriers to more expedient ocean outfall disposal sufficient to encourage sustained re-use.

Cesspits and the working poor after Melbourne's Gold Rushes

Sarah Hayes, Barbara Minchinton

In 1875 two night soil men were asphyxiated while emptying a cesspit in East Melbourne. The pleas of the outraged Coroner were finally heard and the event triggered the compulsory introduction of night pans across the city: an important step in addressing a multitude of problems with cesspits in the urban environment beyond the distaste and dangers of emptying them. This was one step in a series. Earlier measures had been introduced to reduce cess seeping into the soil and contaminating the water table. But it took until the 1890s for sewers to be gradually rolled out across the city, a long time after most European cities were sewered. This paper will explore the value of a tragedy in triggering change and situate the development of waste management systems against the rapid social and economic change brought to Melbourne by the Gold Rushes of the 1850s.

In 1875 two night soil men were asphyxiated while emptying a cesspit in East Melbourne. The pleas of the outraged Coroner were finally heard and the event triggered the compulsory introduction of night pans across the city: an important step in addressing a multitude of problems with cesspits in the urban environment beyond the distaste and dangers of emptying them. This was one step in a series. Earlier measures had been introduced to reduce cess seeping into the soil and contaminating the water table. But it took until the 1890s for sewers to be gradually rolled out across the city, a long time after most European cities were sewered. This paper will explore the value of a tragedy in triggering change and situate the development of waste management systems against the rapid social and economic change brought to Melbourne by the Gold Rushes of the 1850s.

Water and waste: a comparison of Melbourne and Adelaide

Martin Shanahan, Lionel Frost.

The challenges cities face in supplying safe water and disposing effectively of waste water is affected by numerous factors including initial conditions, growth rates and infrastructure provision. This paper reports on a pilot study comparing water consumption and waste disposal in two Australian cities, Adelaide and Melbourne. In the second half of the 19th century Adelaide provided some of its citizens with piped water and sewerage, but it did not enjoy the same economic stimulus Melbourne received from the gold rushes. This difference in initial and ongoing growth conditions assist us in comparing the positive and negative impacts of growth rates on water supply and disposal. This paper examines and compares some of the links between population growth, the provision of water and sewerage infrastructure, and aspects of living standards. These links are not simple, necessarily linear, or always separable

The challenges cities face in supplying safe water and disposing effectively of waste water is affected by numerous factors including initial conditions, growth rates and infrastructure provision. This paper reports on a pilot study comparing water consumption and waste disposal in two Australian cities, Adelaide and Melbourne. In the second half of the 19th century Adelaide provided some of its citizens with piped water and sewerage, but it did not enjoy the same economic stimulus Melbourne received from the gold rushes. This difference in initial and ongoing growth conditions assist us in comparing the positive and negative impacts of growth rates on water supply and disposal. This paper examines and compares some of the links between population growth, the provision of water and sewerage infrastructure, and aspects of living standards. These links are not simple, necessarily linear, or always separable