Early Water Sources Great Falls Intake Georgetown Reservoir Dalecarlia Reservoir High Service Reservoirs Cabin John Bridge Distribution System McMillan Reservoir

Washington Aqueduct

In 1851, a devastating fire struck the capitol building, reducing it to a shell and destroying, among other things, the collection of the Library of Congress. The city itself was experiencing growth, and the fire mainly drew public attention to the piecemeal and inadequate system of water supply, which relied on local wells and shallow, swampy streams. Congress immediately voted to fund a modern water supply system, and the War Department assigned the young Captain Montgomery Meigs, of the Corps of Engineers, to determine the best source of fresh water and plot and construct and aqueduct bringing it to the city’s center.

Eleven miles long and taking nine years to build, the Washington Aqueduct remains in use today, with many of Meigs's original structures still in service over 150 years later. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to maintain and operate the system, serving as a wholesale water provider to D.C. Water. The system has necessarily expanded beyond Meigs's original conduit and reservoir system, but in outline and original concept the system still stands, a testament to his forethought and skill.