THE LONDON WATE R-SUPPLY. T HE Report of the Commission on
the London Water- Supply suggests to Londoners once more the urgency of this important question. London is a huge problem from every point of view, but there is no aspect of the problem more immediately vital than that of a constant and sufficient supply of pure water. The present supply, if we are to take the whole of Greater London, is not even constant, as the denizens of East London have had occasion to recollect, but the insufficiency of supply is even more striking, and perhaps more serious. Every city needs, and should have, abundance of water to be clean, healthy, and attractive. We need, not merely water on tap in our houses, but water in the streets, water running in open places, plenty of fountains, not only for drinking, but for imparting an impression of coolness and refreshment so needful to those who are condemned to spend the whole year round among bricks and mortar. How charming every visitor to Cambridge, e.g., finds those little rills which ran from Hobson's Conduit to the Market Place, imparting on the hottest day a sensation of running brooks amid meadows. It would be impossible, doubtless, to imitate that example in the Strand, but there are many streets in central parts of London in which it should not be impossible. The deficiency of London's supply will be evident when we compare it with that of other cities. London doles out to each inhabitant, on the average, about twenty-nine gallons a day. Ancient Rome gave to each citizen, on the average, two hundred and thirty gallons a day, and that magnificent supply was conveyed at enormous expense from the mountains through aqueducts whose very ruins we approach with a sense almost of awe at such majestic workmanship. But we need not revert to ancient Rome. A comparison with some modern cities is more in point. Washington gives each inhabitant one hundred and fifty- five gallons of water every day, Chicago one hundred and nineteen, New York one hundred. Boston's supply is not only large, but last summer special free supplies of iced water were provided for the children of the poorer quarters. Paris is the only great civilised city which is content with London's low level. Even so backward a city as Naples has now secured an abundant supply of splendid water, while the water of Vienna and Budapest is superb.
In London, therefore, we are much behind the times, and we are far behind the needs of London people. We have a great leeway to make up. We have allowed years to go by during which this question ought to have been solved, and we must now hasten to solve it. But in our haste we must be careful what we do. Two questions connected with the snbj.-ct stand out beyond all others. First, what shall be the central water authority of London ? Secondly, what new sources of water must be secured ? So far as the water authority of London is concerned, it seems to us that there are only two prac- ticable proposals. We assume that in a great modern city a number of private companies cannot, even with the best management, meet the needs of the people. The last twenty years, since the abortive proposal of Lord Cross, certainly proves that beyond question. The primal needs of a great city compel centralised administration, and London especially is dangerously chaotic, with all its reticulation of boards, companies, and other local bodies unconnected with one another, and often overlapping. If there is to be a centralised authority, one of two alterna- tives is inevitable. Either the London County Council must control and administer the water - supply of London, or a Water Board for that purpose must be constructed. The tendency in Europe and America is for the municipal authority to take over this function, and theoretically nothing is to be said against the London County Council undertaking this task for London. But practically there is one objection, and that is that the Council is blocked every way with work, that its members have too much to do, and that it is doubtful whether it would be able to perform this huge additional task with the efficiency it demands. If we thought it could dis- charge this task, we should be glad to see the supply in the hands of the Council, but we feel that the importance of the question is so great that no ptins should be spared to render the administrative body the best that could be constructed ; and hence we agree with the Report that a special Board would prove to be the best solution of the problem. Next, as to the new sources of supply. We do not know what the future of London may be, for it depends upon many contingencies; but we must, for practical purposes, assume that London will continue to grow, especially in its outer rings of population. A good deal of the area of Central London will not show any sign of increased population, some parts will decrease ; but in proportion as electric traction is developed, and speedier communication is assured between the centre and the suburbs, so certainly will those suburbs grow. And as the suburbs grow, the water problem there will become more acute. Now, this being the case, we think that very extensive sources of water must be " earmarked " by London. The Thames, even in exceptionally dry seasons, has held out well, but it would be dangerous to depend upon it as London grows, the more so since the Lea is comparatively useless, and large numbers of the wells and springs about London have given out. The nearest large water-supply for London is in South Wales, and thither London must go. It is not, perhaps, necessary that vast plans should at once be carried out, involving a sudden rise of London rates ; but it is essential that the " claim " should be immediately "staked out" after a careful preliminary survey, and with a view not only to the needs of London to-day, but of the ever greater London of the future, with its immense rings of suburban population. But while the Welsh supply is being considered or staked out, the problem must not be left alone. Even if the Welsh scheme were adopted at once it would be necessary to take up also and carry into operation the proposals for greatly increasing the Thames supply by means of storage reservoirs. Let such works be begun at once ; while at the same time care is taken to acquire the right of starting the works necessary for the Welsh supply as soon as they are needed.