Though abundant and accessible water certainly benefited the population of Minneapolis, it also set up some fundamental problems. An interconnected infrastructure drawing from a mixed-use water source inadvertently created a new vector of disease transmission: the modern series of pumps and sewers. Haunted by the specter of typhoid, city officials unwittingly propagated typhoid outbreaks by funneling the entire city’s water system to one source, the Mississippi River. Minneapolis’ two-pipe system ultimately resulted in a steadily increasing amount of waste being pumped directly into the city’s single water source. As a result, the Mississippi River was being transformed by municipal water systems that developed around using the river as both a water source and a waste repository.
While the development of an extensive sewage infrastructure contributed to increasing the health and living conditions of Minneapolis residents, these benefits were localized to boundaries of Minneapolis. The incorporation of a system which cleared city limits of its refuse and wastewater simply transported refuse along the Mississippi. The amount of waste generated by the growing population of an entire city traveled downstream and ultimately degraded connected riparian environments and polluted the water supply of other communities who used the Mississippi as a source.
The adoption and integration of a municipal water system greatly increased the efficiency with which water was procured and dispensed. Today, Minneapolis’ water infrastructure boasts over a thousand miles of pipes, an annual withdrawal of 21 billion gallons, and a comprehensive sanitation system including filtration, disinfection, sedimentation, chemical additives, and softening agents. The development of this infrastructural system brought about an enormous increase in water consumption, which continues to threaten the sustainability of urban water provision and the watersheds they depend on.
As population growth continues, we must consider negotiating a solution that allows us to provide for a growing population with a shrinking resource base. The continued sustainability of the watersheds we extract water from is essential to ensuring not only future economic and ecologic stability but also for ensuring that millions of people receive basic provisions.