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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kilpauk water house and centenary of J.W. Madeley's work !!

T Nagar bus stand is one of the congested places of Chennai … as you wind further, you would go through Madeley road subway towards West Mambalam / Mettupalayam / Saidapet ….  Chennai [aka Madras] has had perennial water problems – in late 1970s and at the start of the century, there were acute shortages.

Water, a politically sensitive commodity and there are many areas [be it upmarket too] where water is scarce – residents buy lorry loads of water for all their needs.  People used to run after metro water lorries in dead of night carrying plastic pots of varied hues and colours.  If the rush has mellowed down, it is not because of supply exceeding demand, but due to the fact that most people now buy ‘packaged drinking water’ for their needs.

The earlier days were different – subjects were initially dependent on shallow wells and later on Municipal water taps – people trying hard on hand-pumps was common at every house and at every streets. That water in the tap came from local pumping stations and primarily from the Kilpauk water works.    Kilpauk Water Works holds several historical monuments and systems that were in use till about half decade ago.  Inaugurated a century back,  Kilpauk Water Works was the first treatment plant for the city with 80 million litres a day capacity then. It was increased to the existing 270 mld capacity in phases. The massive 60ft steel tank at the entrance  was as old as the red-bricked buildings in the premises.  A high-tension pump installed  so many decades ago, ran  tirelessly to distribute treated water to the residents.

When rain fails, the  ground water level too goes down.  Thankfully, in Triplicane with the full-fledged  implementation of rainwater harvesting in all houses coupled with water in the streets getting collected at the temple tank, the water table as also the quality of water has improved.   The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board ( Metro Water) used to supply water daily and in alternate days in times of scarcity.  There have been plans to bail out the water droughts including bringing water from nearby lakes and rivers.  Desalination, as touted by the earlier Finance Minister never took off.   Desalinating water is costly, and involves advanced technology, so private-sector participation in Chennai was critical and  Metro Water is not exactly in the pink of financial health.

Water shortage returns to Chennai following every poor monsoon.  Till about the middle of 19th century Chennai received water from local shallow wells and tanks. Mr.Fraser, a civil engineer forwarded a proposal to the government to tap the Kortalayar river which is situated about 160 km north west of chennai and it was accepted.  Years later the supply channel delivered water by gravity into a masonry shaft at Kilpauk from which the cast iron mains of the City branched off and a scientifically designed water supply Distribution System was established.  The man incharge was British Engineer J.W. Madeley.    That was the first major milestone towards protected water supply using of filtration and pumping was achieved during the year 1914. 

 So, it was exactly a hundred years ago [17th Dec 2014] , a scientifically-designed water distribution system was launched by Corporation of Madras. The system and many of the old pipelines and structures are still in use. Hidden in the midst of the sprawling campus of Kilpauk Water Works on New Avadi Road is a nearly 150-year-old shaft that stands as a testimony to the evolution of Chennai’s water supply system over the years. The bowl-like masonry structure, recently refurbished, is one of the first systems ever used to store water from the Red Hills reservoir and supply to the city as far back as in 1872. Once it was filled to the brim, water would branch off through vents on either side and then be transported to George Town and central Chennai through iron pipes.  This scientifically-designed distribution system was launched by the then special engineer to the Corporation of Madras, J.W. Madeley.

According to the report in The Hindu today, Metrowater officials who maintain the plant point out that a 100-year-old pipeline still transports treated water to various parts of the city. “Several pipelines laid then are used to pump water to areas as far as Triplicane and George Town even today,” the official says. Several buildings, a new storage tank and a compound wall have come up during the course of years. But they have been constructed to resemble the heritage buildings, adding more charm to the magnificent campus.

The Madeley Road at Mambalam was named after this British engineer J.W. Madeley who  revolutionised the concept of an organised drinking water system in the city before he returned home in 1932. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
17th Dec 2014

News inputs taken from The Hindu; photo credits : http://sewerhistory.org/

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