In 1854 a cholera epidemic struck Trinidad which left thousands of Trinidadians dead, with Port-of-Spain being the worst hit.The primary cause was the abysmal sanitation conditions, which saw cesspits and wells being dug alongside each other, with no pipeborne supply. Sir Charles Elliott, the governor, made immediate attempts to acquire lands for a reservoir. The upper reaches of the Maraval River were chosen as the place for the construction of a dam and filtration system. Pipes would be laid alongside the river, but this was met with stiff opposition from the De Boissieres, who owned the Champs Elysees estate, which was along the banks.
After a bitter legal battle, the Governor passed an ordinance allowing the government leeway on all riversides to a maximum of 30 feet, which ended the matter.The Maraval Waterworks were an extensive project, guided by JE Tanner, who would later become one of the founders of the Trinidad Government Railway in 1876. The nearly-completed waterworks were described thus in 1857: "The Port-of-Spain water-works are now nearly completed; the general outlay will have been about 26,000 sterling. The town is supplied with water from the Maraval river; two reservoirs and a filter having been built in that valley, at about three miles from town, from which a main pipe, of 12 inches bore, reduced to ten inches, brings the water to the lower end of the town about three miles and three quarters.
It is then distributed through every street by branch pipes, varying from two to six inches in diameter; hydrants are also disposed at every 500 feet, more or less, for protection against fire; there are 160 such hydrants, and they throw water over the highest houses, without interfering with private service pipes."In addition to the several fountains which formed a public supply, a bath and wash house with two bathing pools and troughs was erected near to the Colonial Hospital, where the masses cavorted and played and wasted the water freely. The Public Works Department, which had responsibility for the reservoir, took great pains to keep it spruce and clean in line with the beautiful setting of Maraval.
In 1888 JH Collens wrote: "On the left is the house of Mr A K Clairmonte, then ascending the hill we come at once upon the reservoir, and here we should do well to pause for a minute or two. Nature and art have joined hand in hand to make the spot a little paradise. The slender, gracefully-arched bamboos, many-hued crotons, fragrant oleanders and dainty ferns, with the numerous ornamental shrubs surrounding the basins of bright clear water, combine to make a tout ensemble that is most striking. Stepping across to the other side of the reservoir and down to the river, we find charming retreats and shady nooks worthy of an artist's pencil."The whole place is scrupulously clean, reflecting great credit upon the keeper of the works, who is an old warrior with the Balaklava medal, hailing from the Emerald Isle. If you have the faintest suspicion of the brogue in your speech, he will exhibit what, in his estimation, is the gem of the place, a reminiscence of the 'ould counthry' in the form of a genuine live shamrock plant, fondly and proudly cherished. The water from this reservoir descends by two principal arteries into the town, supplying thence the different sub-mains."
The wasting of water was a big issue and in the 1890s, Walsh Wrightson, Director of Public Works, began to take steps to introduce rates for the use of water, extending even to the public washhouse, which had become a mainstay in the town. The Ratepayers Association was formed in response to the impending Water Ordinance which proposed that water meters be installed in the town to make burgesses pay for their water. It was based on reports of drafted water inspectors, who reported freely running taps in the seedier districts. The association viewed water as a right of existence, and not a scarce commodity to be bought and sold.The conflict between the association and the Colonial Government was the main impetus behind the Water Riots of 1903, in which 12 lives were lost and the Red House gutted by fire.The Maraval Reservoir was transferred to the Port-of-Spain Water Authority in 1912. The Maraval Reservoir is now the property of the Water and Sewerage Authority and is still a place of beauty and serenity, although it is no longer freely open to the public.