Key developments of instrumentation, control and automation (ICA) applications in wastewater systems during the past 40 years are highlighted in this paper. From the first ICA conference in 1973 through to today there has been a tremendous increase in the understanding of the processes, instrumentation, computer systems and control theory. However, many developments have not been addressed here, such as sewer control, drinking water treatment and water distribution control. It is hoped that this review can stimulate new attempts to more effectively apply control and automation in water systems in the coming years. © IWA Publishing 2014.