Reflections on water – historical and contemporary


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Mark Harvey. Paper presented at CRESI Seminar, 20 October 2011, University of Essex

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Reflections on water – historical and contemporary

  1. 1. Reflections on Water: historical and contemporary Mark Harvey
  2. 2. Reconstructing water Who drinks it? When? A fundamental human right? Water for what? Historical differentiations and integrations in use and quality Water and waste: pipes, water closets and sewers Whose Water? Public good or commercial commodity? Whence water? Geographies of sources and flows: tap and bottled, cities, countryside.
  3. 3. An historical political economy approach <ul><li>Configurations of production, distribution, appropriation and consumption: ‘instituted economic processes’ </li></ul><ul><li>Politico-socio-economies of water </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cultures of water, historical mutations </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Historical and comparative: France and the UK, Delhi……. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Trajectories of consumption and consumption work <ul><li>Different waters for different uses – until 20 th century </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Washing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Clothes – laundering, wash-houses </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Self – if, how often, when, where (home, bath-houses, wash-houses, rivers) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Drinking </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Spring, well, pump, river, household taps, bottles </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Drinking small beer, tea, coffee, carbonnated……forms of drinking water </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Wastewater </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Consumption work </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fetching: buying from water-carriers, going to pumps/wells, supermarkets….. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Purifying: water filters, boiling, storing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Distributing within the home from basement, cistern, storing against intermittent supply </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Managing cesspits, paying night-soil collectors, digging holes (or not) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organising and installing plumbing </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Trajectories of water production <ul><li>Urbanisation of supply </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Increasing reliance on river-supply, contamination of wells/springs. Water wheels for lifting river water. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Integration or differentiation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The emergence of ‘all-purpose’ domestic water. Water is just water. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dual supply systems? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Purification and quality </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Drawing from purer sources – upstream, river sources </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reservoirs and sand filtration. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Chlorination from early 20 th century, stabilised technology only by 1950s….. to UV, microfiltering, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Early to mid-19 th century regulation of aesthetic quality </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Increase in volume per capita </li></ul><ul><ul><li>From 20 gallons per capita per day (1850) to 90 gallons (1875) </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Water quality technology: reservoir for storage, successive sand-filter beds.
  7. 7. Trajectories of distribution <ul><li>From carrying to piping </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Multiplication of fountains and stand-pipes. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>From conduits to wooden pipes: connecting houses </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Water by gravity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Building water towers, and lifting water by horse then steam-engine </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The arrival of cast-iron pipes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Water by pressure, steam powered engines </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Enabling universal continuous water supply under pressure (early 20 th century in UK; late 20 th century France) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Waste water </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Separation of draining surface from industrial or domestic waste water </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The slow WC revolution (the persistence of ‘middens’) </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. The New River: ‘flowing’ by 1614 <ul><li>Gravity fed over 40 miles </li></ul><ul><li>Supplying 50,000 houses in 1800 </li></ul><ul><li>22.5 million gallons of water </li></ul><ul><li>per day in 1950 </li></ul>
  9. 9. Production and distribution. Metropolitan Water Board 1953
  10. 10. The great sustainability crisis <ul><li>The integration of water for multiple domestic uses </li></ul><ul><li>The integration of waste water with source water (rivers) </li></ul><ul><li>Closing a vicious circle: environmental and human catastrophe. </li></ul><ul><li>The fifty-year intensification of the crisis, from 1815 de-regulation then legislative mandate to increase pollution. </li></ul><ul><li>The collapse of the cesspit system </li></ul><ul><li>The Great Stink (1858) or Great Liquidity Crisis (too much) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>From 200,000 domestic cesspits to one big cesspit (the Thames) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The separation of source from waste water </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sewers for and for human waste water </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ The most extensive and wonderful work of modern times” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What to do with wasted human fertilizer? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Lots of muck, no brass </li></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Edwin Chadwick: “ All smell is disease” 1831 The arrival of cholera in England at the port of Sunderland John Snow, 1854 The disputed discovery of water-borne cholera Robert Koch, 1883 Identification of Vibrio Cholerae Cholera
  12. 12. Bazalgette’s Low Level Intercept Sewer, 1860.
  13. 13. Taking shit out to sea: London’s solid sewage disposal 1887-1997
  14. 15. Appropriation and exchange <ul><li>From feudal rights, some ‘commons rights’, some ‘free’ goods, for personal use, to private consumption and production </li></ul><ul><li>The emergence of water companies and growth of infrastructures </li></ul><ul><li>The quasi-firm, quasi-market and the institution of the water rate </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The New River Company </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Great Competition, water and technology wars, and district monopolisation (1810-1817) </li></ul><ul><li>The ‘vestry opposition’ to private monopolies </li></ul><ul><li>The disappearance of the market for night-soil, and the integration of the water and sewer rate </li></ul><ul><li>The rationalisation of private monopoly and the municipalisation of water </li></ul><ul><li>And now privatisation of tap-water (mandatory and regulated exchanges) and spring water (bottled) (commercial markets). </li></ul>
  15. 16. History in a “water” bill: still more a tax than a price
  16. 17. The politics of water <ul><li>Conflicts over rights over water resources </li></ul><ul><li>Regulation of quality and supply </li></ul><ul><li>Regulation forcing innovation in distribution, and control over waste and source water </li></ul><ul><li>Regulation over domestic consumption and obligation to install plumbing with enforcement of standards </li></ul><ul><li>Battles over public or private ownership of production and distribution </li></ul><ul><li>Battles over quality of water </li></ul><ul><li>Regulation over prices and pricing institutions </li></ul>
  17. 18. Instituted economies of water <ul><li>Processes of instituting economies of water: complex interactions between emergent distinctively organised private exchanges and politically mandated exchanges. </li></ul><ul><li>The formation and dissolution of public goods in water provisioning. </li></ul><ul><li>The stasis in 1950s tap-water quality (safe versus aesthetic), and the emergence of bottled water markets. </li></ul><ul><li>The inadequacy of the state-versus-market paradigm, and historically emergent economic organisation. The water-waste economy. </li></ul><ul><li>Configurations and emergent causalities of configurational transformation: the mid-19 th century configurational ‘contradiction’. </li></ul><ul><li>A newly emergent climate change contradiction with bottled water? </li></ul>