Meanwhile, the industries of north Wolverhampton continued to use the water of the Smestow for a range of purposes, not least to carry away effluent. From the 1870s water was extracted in large quantities at the source for the brewing industry. The large Springfield Brewery that was built for William Butler at the source of the Smestow in 1873 was to operate until 1991, for much of its life in the hands of Mitchells & Butlers.
The main reason that the brook itself often appears scant in flow and unimportant is that the rock beneath is highly-permeable sandstone. Hence, very large quantities of water can be locked away not far below the surface, in the underlying aquifer. As early as 1851, the engineer Henry Marten gauged the supply at ten million gallons (approximately 45,000,000 litres) per day and proposed to extract water for drinking and industrial use from the Smestow. This was blocked by opposition from the carpet makers of Kidderminster, who feared that extraction from the Smestow would affect the flow of the Stour, which they used to carry away their effluent.
The following year, Marten put forward a scheme for drinking water extraction from the lower Smestow. This time he sent water samples to analytical laboratories in London, where they were pronounced exceptionally clear and free from decaying matter. The aquifer beneath the sandstone is itself very vulnerable to pollution, and the actual river water at that time is unlikely to have been free of chemical and microbial pollution. Perhaps it is a good thing that Marten's idea was not put into practice until the 1890s, when a large pumping station was constructed at Ashwood, south of Swindon, to supply water to Black Country industry. This was soon followed by the Bratch pumping station at Wombourne, built to supply Bilston with drinking water. Both of these extracted water from the aquifer, not directly from the river, and were actually sited closer to the canal, which could be used to supply them with coal.
In the 20th century deliberate attempts were made to clean up the Smestow. These, together with the almost total collapse of heavy industry in Wolverhampton and the Black Country during the 1980s, have allowed the river to recover from earlier pollution. Today the water is clear and the courses of the river and the canal are important wildlife havens.
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