With the discoveries of South Africa's diamonds in the 1860s and gold in the 1880s, immigrants flooded into Cape Town and changed it into a major commercial center. Unfortunately, its water supply had not kept pace with the population growth. After several droughts and years of inadequate water supply, the Woodhead Tunnel was constructed between 1887 and 1891. When it failed to solve the water shortage problem, the Municipality of Cape Town determined that a dam and reservoir needed to be built.
Water wheels have been used to power mills and pumps for centuries. However, the traditional water wheel was inefficient: water hitting a bucket would splash back against the next bucket, slowing the wheel. This is especially true when water is delivered to the buckets under very high pressure.
In the mid-1800s Virginia City was America's greatest producer of high-grade silver and gold ore. When mining activities began, natural springs provided water to the camps. As the population grew, the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company was formed to address the need for more water. The company first drew water from tunnels that had been driven into the mountains by prospectors. Water was stored in wooden tanks and sent through pipes into the town.