History of Belfast Water Supply
Belfast grew quickly throughout the 18th and 19th century, and this created a water issue, as the demand for clean drinking water was often greater than the supply. At the end of the 18th century, clean water was usually brought from the springs around the settlement, but by 1795, due to the growth of Belfast, it became clear that the water supply had to be controlled more efficiently.
As the population continued to boom, and the demand became even greater, the Belfast Water Act of 1840 was passed to help better regulate the water supply. The Act placed Commissioners in charge of the water supply, to make sure all 70,000 inhabitants had access to clean water.
Acts of Parliament
While the Commissioners did their best to provide water by creating several programmes of works and bringing more springs into service, by 1852 the town was once again faced with a water crisis. At this point, Belfast was short almost a million gallons per day, and the situation was continuing to get worse as the growth rate of the town skyrocketed. In order to create new reservoirs to meet the need, Parliamentary Acts in 1865, 1874, 1879, and 1889 were passed. This allowed the water system to go as far as Woodburn, and also created more storage areas for the water supply within Belfast.
In 1888 the boundary for the water system was once again extended and reached out to Wolfhill, Knock and Shaw’s Bridge. The Water Board was also created to serve as the Belfast City and District Water Commissioners. In 1891, a once again burgeoning population led to the appointment of a surveyor to keep an eye on available water sources. The surveyor, Mr. Luke Livingstone Macassey decided to continue with the Mourne scheme.
The Mourne scheme was chosen because it could be slowly implemented in instalments so that the supply could be piped into Belfast for immediate use as the Mourne reservoir was slowly built. To do this, water intakes were created along the Annalong and Kilkeel rivers, and once completed, Belfast received an additional water supply of 30 million gallons per day.
The Mourne scheme was thought to have solved all of the water problems of Belfast, but by 1960, once again the Water Commissioners found they had a shortage, due to the growth of the city and the industry within it. Lough Neagh became the water supply of choice, allowing an initial 10 million more gallons per day, and almost 20 million more gallons per day as the scheme increased. For the time being, water demand has slowed, but should it increase again, Lough Neagh most likely will be the chosen option.