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The History of Perth Plumbing

A detailed history of Perth’s water network and plumbing advances from the early settlement to the modern world we live in today.

The Early Settlement (1829 –1890)

When the first European settlers arrived in Perth in 1829 they were unprepared for the long, dry and hot summers. They had to rely on swamps, lakes, wells, freshwater springs and rainwater tanks for their water supply. Due to the gold rush in the late 1890s, Western Australia’s population started to rapidly increase and with that came water shortages and pollution in the wells. This resulted in typhoid and other waterborne diseases, so the need for a safe water supply became urgent.

There were disagreements between the Colonial Governments and Town Councils about responsibility for the public water supply. After much debate, the city’s first water supply scheme was born. It was agreed that water would be sourced from a 140,000,000 gallon water storage dam in the Darling Range, east of Perth. The dam would connect to a 1,260,000 gallon service reservoir 16 miles away at Mt Eliza. The reservoir overlooked the city of Perth and enabled water distribution to the surrounding areas. The scheme was designed to supply 25,000 people with water and would provide 30 gallons per day, per person. This was included in the rates for each home and was enough to service one water closet and one bath per day.

The same year, a serious outbreak of typhoid saw the need for the construction of a sewerage system. In 1891, Perth’s first piped water system was established. However, it was run by a privately owned company and there were numerous complaints about the network’s price and service.

A New Era (1890 –1978)

From 1897 to 1904 the drains of the city were upgraded and this resulted in waste being dumped in the Swan River. This caused a variety of social and health issues. With sanitation and clean water in short supply, the Perth Master Plumbers Association was created to serve the community. Back in those days, the methods of disposing of waste were not glamourous at all. A toilet consisted of a bucket that was housed in a wooden structure known as a ‘pan closet toilet’ or ‘thunderbox’.

Over the coming years, more dams and reservoirs were constructed to supply more of the state with piped water. However, these measures proved to be inadequate due to Perth’s profligate pattern of water use. The city needed a new supply of water and quickly.

By the late 1960s, the rapidly growing city was entering a dry decade. After much research, groundwater became the answer to the state’s dwindling water supply. It was easily accessible and affordable. Just a decade later, nearly half of the city’s water supply was drawn from groundwater reserves.

The evolution of the state’s water systems provided the opportunity for a lot of plumbing businesses to be established across Perth. With the evolution of plumbing technology and the demand for innovative products, toilet cisterns and hot water services were born.

However, it was not long before the government imposed voluntary water restrictions because of the population’s lax water usage. But as time went on and conditions worsened, they introduced stricter measures. To please the gardening community, a campaign was launched encouraging households to sink their own bores. Today, a quarter of Perth’s households have their own bore water supply.

Despite water restrictions and the groundwater revolution, Perth’s water supplies did not stop dwindling. To ease the pressure on the supplies, the government introduced a user-pays system in 1978 which saw a significant reduction in water use.

The First Desalination Plant (1978 – today)

In the late 1990s, Adelaide company Metropolitan Plumbing made their way over to Perth to provide plumbing services to the masses.

The twenty-first century saw the Millennium Drought head east and affect Perth’s waterways. In 2001 the city’s dams were the driest they had been since the drought of 1914. The dam’s streamflows had almost halved since the 1970s and this confirmed that the region’s climate was undergoing a drying trend. Something had to be done.

In 2002, the government announced a seawater desalination plant to supply the state. The announcement was met with objections from environmentalists and the government was forced to explore other options. However, no suitable alternatives could be found and in 2006, the city’s first desalination plant opened. After another dry winter in 2011, a second desalination plant was commissioned. Meanwhile, the various dams around the state were deteriorating due to the stress of the drying climate and the increased water usage in the growing city.

Despite the state’s best efforts to avoid disaster, it was recently revealed that Western Australians have consumed more water in the last 20 years than any other state. As the government search for added water-saving alternatives, there are measures you can take to reduce your water usage. Did you know a tap leaking at one drip per second wastes more than 12,000 litres of water per year? That’s right, one of the easiest water-wasting culprits to remedy is your leaking tap. Leaking tap repairs are simple jobs for plumbers and one that should be tended to immediately. Stop searching for a plumber in Perth and contact a local expert today.

Since Metropolitan Plumbing arrived in Perth, the company has expanded and has become one of the most recognised and professional emergency plumbing services in Australia. In 2020, Metropolitan’s commitment to customer service was recognised with the Product Review award for the plumbing category across all of Australia. Contact the name you know and love today.

Published: 23 Jun, 2020

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