Water for Odessa: from wells to Infoxvodokanal

Living without water pipes

The problem of water supply for Odessa dates back to the city's founding. The reasons for this are that the surroundings of Hadjibei Bay, where Odessa was settled, does not have rivers, lakes or any other sources of plentiful fresh water. Local underground water-bearing layers are largely mineralized, and not very readily potable.

Digging for wells in Odessa started at the same time as building the port. The main water supplying street of the city was not Vodoprovodnaya Street, but rather Balkovskaya Street. In 1797, about twenty wells were dug there — underground waters were flowing in Vodyanaya Balka (where the name of the street comes from) at a fairly shallow depth. The water was taken around the city in barrels on carts and was sold for 10-15 kopecks per bucket. For comparison purposes one pound of meat cost 20 kopecks at that time.

Soon, not far away from the sea, new springs of water were found that, according to historical accounts, were much better than the one obtained from the wells by the city-dwellers. These springs, or”fountains” gave their name to whole areas of the city — Bolshoy Fontan, Malyi, Rashkovskiy, Deribassovsky, etc. Odessa city inhabitants said, “this is not a fountain”, meaning, “not a big deal”, and this became language folklore. This phrase was first used when the water, brought from Vodyanaya Balka, had a poor quality taste and was worse than water from the fountain.

Odessa know-how

The first time the city, Dyma requested funds from the government for setting up a water supply in 1808, the request was not fulfilled. For this reason, from 1820 to 1829, Odessa citizens created their own original constructions to collect rain water — these are the so-called “tanks.” The water would fall down the roofs, through the gutters, down to underground canals that were made out of brick or ceramic pipes, and then the water would enter a reservoir. At the bottom of the gutters there would be a faucet that would allow the initial, dirtiest portion of the rain water to be discharged off to the side. Before getting into the tank, the water would go through filters containing gravel and wood coal. The tanks themselves were lined with solid limestone or quarry stone or limestone solution. The walls were plastered with a special type of cement.

The water from the tanks was considered better than that from the wells. It was more suitable for cooking food, making tea, as well as washing clothes. When apartments were rented out, the house owners would even specify in the contract how much “sweet water” from the tanks the renter had the rights to.

In the 40’s of the 19th century 152 tanks were already functioning in Odessa. The capacity of some of them was up to 500 cubic meters. Constructing underground reservoirs influenced the architecture: the buildings were constructed with sloping roofs to make collecting the water easier. But if there was a low amount of rain, even the tanks could not supply the growing city with enough water.

The number of wells also grew — there were more than 500 wells in 1861. Other than on Vodyanaya Balka, the wells were located on the corner of Deribasovskaya and Ekaterininskaya streets, on the territory of Rishilievsky lyceum, in the Kolodezny alley (now Vice-admiral Zhukov alley). The depth of the wells fluctuated between 6 and 40 metres. The water from the wells was brought to consumers in barrels. This was not easy to do given the constant construction of wells. Some slopes and streets on a ravine surface were blocked with chains, as moving along those streets was not safe.

The first water pipeline

In the middle of the 19th century a merchant from the city of Taganrog, Timofey Kovalevsky moved to Odessa, and took up the mission of building the first Odessa water pipeline from the spring Bolshoy Fontan to the centre of the city. The construction work continued for three years. On February 15, 1853, the Kovalevsky water pipeline was activated. It consisted of a water intake gallery that received the water from the spring, a pumping station with steam engines and piston pumps, brick water tower shaft, and a cast iron pipeline 12 kilometers long that would collect water into a metal tank. This tank was set up on a stone watchtower at the corners of Staroportofrankosvkaya and Maly Arnautskaya Streets. The water from the pressure tank was first distributed along the streets, and later, different parts of the city had eight stone pools built. Water bearers would bring water around by bucket.

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A model of a steam engine. The photo is taken from the archive of the Dnestr water treatment station museum.

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Gate valves of slow filters at the Dnestr water treatment station.

The photo is taken from the archive of the “Dnestr” water treatment station museum.

Kovalevsky tried to advertise his water in various ways, “Fountain water, as he use to write in an Odessa newspaper Odesskiy Vestnik, in its quality, cleanliness, and freshness is great for drinking, making food, any drinks, as well as for making bread; it helps the dough to rise, it washes and softens hair well.” Despite this, not all Odessa housewives liked this machine-produced water, and they preferred to use rain water from the tanks. Over time, less of this “fountain” water was consumed. Having invested almost all his capital into buying pumps and pipes in Great Britain, Timofey Kovalevskiy made desperate attempts to save the situation. He was unsuccessful: the quality of water continued to deteriorate, the creditors were after him, and Kovalevsky was on the edge of bankruptcy. Later, there appeared a legend about his death: the founder of Odessa’s first water pipeline loved his baby so much, that having learned about his bankruptcy, he went up his well-known tower and jumped. After Kovalevsky's death, his family was overwhelmed by creditors and gave up the rights to the water pipeline. IIt became the property of the city government. However, management by the city turned out to be extremely ineffective and by 1873, the first Odessa water pipeline ceased to exist. This same date is shared by the activation of a new water pipeline, Dnestr-Odessa that is still supplying the city with clean drinking water.

Dnestr water arrives in Odessa

In 1870, Odessa port had the second largest cargo turnover in Russia. There were 127 factories and plants in the city, and the number of Odessa dwellers reached 130 thousand. The city’s main issue, the supply of water, remained unresolved.

Endless searching for new sources of water inside the city and in the suburbs didn't lead anywhere. Dug up wells were the main sources of water. As the city grew, it got more and more dirty, the quality of water also deteriorated. Those who were technically proficient came to a conclusion that the only way to provide Odessa with water would be to bring the water from the Dnestr river. Between 1864 and 1871 the city Duma received more than 20 offers from domestic and foreign entrepreneurs, seeking to receive a license to build and oversee the Odessa water pipeline. In the end, the authorities signed a contract with an entrepreneur from Moscow, Wilhelm Shwaben, and his partner John Moore from Great Britain to build the Dnestr water pipeline and supply the city with water for 40 years.

Research showed that the best location for a water pipeline from the Dnestr is the village, Mayaki, located 20 miles from Odessa. It was decided to set up the water receiver in a place where there is a natural bend in the river and no breaking waves, which settled the water, eliminated garbage, and cleaned the river stream. Many contemplated setting up filters to clean up the water.

The Dnestr-Odessa water pipeline represented one of the most unique and complex water pipelines in Europe. The project of Shwaben and Moore attracted Odessa “city fathers” by the fact that it provided water to the city centre, to the outskirts and to the farms. By contrast, in St. Peterburg, Kiev and Kharkov, the centralized water supply was only in the city center. The Odessa project also included a high rise of water above the sea level, which was enabled with the help of technical constructions.

At the same time, the situation with the water supply in the city was becoming catastrophic. The situation was worsened by the drought of 1871, the year was very dry, and there wasn’t any rain for four months. Some wells completely dried out. The water that could be still found in some tanks was completely unusable for drinking. There were entrepreneurs who started to bring water to Odessa from Herson by tow boats and were selling it for an incredibly high price – 3-4 rubles per barrel.

Finally, in March 1872, in London the “Odessa water pipeline society” was formed, financing the building of the Dnestr water pipeline. In June of the same year, the long-awaited building on the Dnestr was started, and on September 22 on Staroportofrancskaya Street, near the Fire Square, workers commenced building the city water pipeline network. The city started to change – the streets were broken up by trenches, movement of Odessa streets, which was never an easy thing to do, became even more complicated, adding new troubles to city authorities.

And then on September 9th there was a celebratory opening of the fountain on Sobornaya Square, supplied by the water from the Dnestr. What was the Dnestr water pipeline like when it was activated? It consisted of a complex of buildings on the Dnestr, a water pipeline Dnestr-Odessa, reservoirs, a pumping station “Chumka” and the city water pipeline network. Entrepreneurs made a commitment to “supply the city, its outskirts and farms with clean water without impurities, not mixed in with sea water, in the amount necessary for all public and private needs – initially not less than two million buckets per day.” The water had to be supplied constantly, not less than 6 hours a day. Entrepreneurs received the following payment for the water: 9 kopecks for a forty liter barrel for individuals, and 4 kopecks per a barrel for factories, plants and other institutions. The water for fire control and for fountains was given away for free. The duration of the license was 49 years. But after 20 years the city had the option of buying out the water pipeline. The authorities had the rights to control the operations of the water pipeline, the quality of water supply and its sales.

Construction of the city water pipeline network continued even after activating the Dnestr water pipeline. In total, the licensees laid 257 km of street network out of cast iron pipes on lead joints. The city guaranteed the licensees sales worth 900 rubles per day. In reality, sales for the first five years were lower than that and the city had to pay the licensees guarantees of 380 thousand rubles. The reason for the low use of the pipeline water had to do with the fact that the city Duma did not move to attach nearby homes to the existing sewage collectors or build new ones. House owners who had to pay large amounts of money for sanitation had to take measures to decrease the use of piped water. In many houses, yard water intake valves would be locked up and people could only use them at certain hours, indicated by a ringing bell.

The first reconstruction

The water pipeline gave a strong push to the growth and development of the city, and by 1888 the population consisted of 330 thousand people. Although the total volume of supplied water was more than 20 thousand cubic meters per day, due to the constant increase of the size of the pipe network, the water pressure was going down. Often the water could not climb even a small height. That is why in 1890, four kilometers away from the pumping station “Dnestr” at the highest point of the territory, an additional pumping station was built, called “Gornaya.” It consisted of an engine space and a water tower shaft 31 meters in height, which increased the throughput capacity of the water pipeline.

The station “Dnestr” itself was reconstructed as well – the boilers were changed, the machines were improved, another slow filter was created. To improve the quality of water and to increase the effectiveness of the filters, a new and more effective way of washing was introduced. Moving hydraulic sand washers were supplied from Great Britain, they were put to action under the streams of incoming clean water. This technology increased the speed of cleaning and the quality of water.

With the 100 year anniversary Odessa’s foundingcoming up, the city authorities decided to give a present to Southern Palmyra and bought out the water pipeline from the licensees.

In city property

In a transcript from May 27, 1794, Ekaterina II wrote to de Ribas, “Our trade will flourish in those places and the city will fill up with citizens very soon.” In one hundred years, the words of the empress came true and Odessa became a large city. In 1795 there were 200 houses built in Odessa, but within one hundred years that number had grown to 11 thousand houses. The city was lighted by gas and parks and gardens were built. The port welcomed up to two and a half thousand vessels from different countries. Odessa had the highest bread sales in Russia.

At this point in time, the city Duma decided to buy out the water pipeline from the publicly owned company responsible for the Dnester-Odessa water pipeline. The licensees received 2 million 740 thousand rubles, and the city created the “Board of Odessa city water pipeline.” The commission of the city Duma recommended that the government provide cheap water to the poor areas of the city, and those citizens who use more water than usual have to, “be set up with high rates for payment and we will exert strict control over them.” The rules of using Odessa water pipeline stated that, “the area of the city network includes all those areas that are located along streets or roads that have city water pipelines going along them, or at a distance of not more than 25 meters from these streets and roads. Outside these limits, water supply for the houses and property is not mandatory for the Board of the water pipeline to provide, but it can be arranged if there is cause for it.”

After twenty five years of use, the water pipeline was in excellent state, the only worry was the state of the pipes in the city network.

“Second breath” of the Odessa water pipeline

As soon as the water pipeline became the property of the city, the authorities started to increase the water supply. They planned to double the productivity of the water supply system from 24 thousand to 48 thousand cubic meters per day. The overall water supply plan, designed for this project, still remains. It was decided to completely change the existing plan: the water pipeline from Belyaevka, supplying the water directly to the city network, would be turned off and would supply reserve reservoirs. The new pumping station had to take the water from the reservoirs and direct it to the city network. Equipment and materials for the reconstruction of the Odessa water pipeline were supplied from all parts of the Russian empire and from abroad. The pipes were supplied from the Makeevka machine-building plant, the mechanical plants of Borman, Schvede and Co in Warsaw, and the machine-building and cast iron casting plants in Germany. The contracts with the English water pipeline company “Chaytorn, Devi and Co”, which supplied water pressure equipment to the Dnestr and Chumka stations, were signed. According to the contract,the payment was given only after the machines had been in operation for six months. It was effectively a reliability guarantee.

In 1901 on the Dnestr water pipeline station there was a laboratory organized on the systematic research of water, supplied from the river to the city. During this period the only criteria for water quality was the amount of bacteria in it.

And again there is not enough water!

Odessa was developing quickly by 1906 and the authorities made the rules of water use more stringent. Over time, the water allowance for watering gardens and orchards was revoked and the diameters of water pipeline inlets in the houses decreased. By the beginning of the World War I the population of Odessa had reached 630 thousand people but the average daily volume of supplied water was only 53 thousand cubic meters. This was absolutely not enough: for comparison, today’s Odessa, with a million people, uses about 600-700 thousand cubic meters. The need for capital renovations of the existing pipelines and building the third water pipeline from the Dnestr station to the city was clear, but the war and the revolution intervened with these plans.

By the beginning of 1918 there were only two engines at the Dnestr station instead of four, and the fuel would only last for two months. Only four filters out of six were in operation. The German occupation aggravated the troublesome state of the pipeline: the fuel for the Dnestr station “Dnestr” was confiscated and those few tow boats that had coal were often taken over by Romanian troops. The supply of water decreased by 2-5-fold and the city started having epidemics of cholera and typhoid.

English and French intervention worsened the state even more. By January 24, 1919, the city broke out in a general strike. Workers of the water pipeline system stated that if their demand for a raise in wages by 150 percent was not satisfied, they would stop the water supply to Odessa by 1 p.m. . Their demands unmet, pipeline workers shut down the water supply. Scared by this decisive action by the strikers, the city Council satisfied their demands.

By April 1919, Odessa was occupied by the Red Army again. At that time, followers of Petlura were running nearby villages, and some places were run by Denikin followers. The Odessa water pipeline was not owned by anyone. In conditions where there was no coal, a wooden staircase in Odessa port had to be taken apart, and cut up into logs. The water pipeline was in especially serious condition at the end of December 1919, when severe frost broke out. The Dnestr was frozen, and tow boats with coal could not reach Belyaevka. During these days, the Dnestr station was barely functioning, burning the last leftovers of fuel. The building of a narrow-gauge railway was started hastily from the Vygoda station to Belyaevka and had to supply wood, fuel oil and coal.

Days of water

The losses the Odessa water pipeline had to bear during the years of the Civil war were estimated to be 1 million 756 thousand rubles (in 1914 prices). By the spring of 1920, leaks in the extremely broken down street and yard water pipeline networks lost up to 60% of the water delivered. The infrastructure of the Dnestr and Chumka water pipeline stations had not been maintained for some time and they were in disrepair. Due to the building of the Vygoda-Dnestr railroad, there were not enough workers to clean up slow filters and rewash the sand. Water quality was affected, and soon specialists found cholera bacteria in the Dnestr’s water. In order to avoid an epidemic, it was necessary to supply the city with only a bare minimum of water: 45 thousand cubic meters per day. Even to supply this minimum, there was often not enough fuel. The authorities set up so-called “water days,” when the water that was saved up in the reservoirs of the Chumka station flowed with sufficient pressure to the city network.

Notices regarding the “water days” were printed in the newspaper along with information about the bread baked and the fuel supplied. During the other days the water was only supplied to the low-lying areas of the city, where it was distributed to the population only in specifc locations. However, with the introduction of “water days,” tests showed an increase in bacterial contamination. This happened due to the storage of water in the Chumka station’s reservoirs for many days. The reservoirs had to be completely drained in order to remove sediments accumulated over long periods of continuous use, which were now entering the water supply on “water days.” It was decided to rethink the system to supply the city based on specific areas. At the same time there was restoration work taking place. In the second half of 1922, the water pipeline was working without any disruptions and supplied 36 thousand cubic meters per day on average. At the same time, the production of water-meters was being set up, and since October 1, 1924 Odessa water pipeline system began charging fees for water, based on water meter data. Workers and office employees would pay 6 kopecks per cubic meter according to these new fees.

The main restorative work was concluded by 1926. According to the number of houses connected to the water pipeline system (96%), Odessa became the leading city in the USSR. The length of the street water pipeline network was 490 kilometers.

Pre-war reconstruction

By the end of the thirties, the needs of Odessa started to approach the limit of the water pipeline’s capacity yet again. By that time new water pipelines were already laid all the way to Luzanovka and Lustdorf. Water supply to the city remained especially high during the summer months: in August 1930 Odessa used more than 75 thousand cubic meters of water per day. To improve the city water supply, the building of a third Dnestr-Odessa pipeline41 km long began. In those areas where the pressure did not exceed4 atmospheres, it was decided to use reinforced concrete pressure pipes. For that time it was a brave technical solution since such pipes were not yet produced in the USSR. The plant to produce these types of pipes belonged specifically to the engineers of the Odessa water pipeline. Initial pipes were not successful and could not withstand hydraulic testing. The workers of the water pipeline system used a lot of creativity until the correct technology for making these pipes was discovered, and the pipes created turned out to be of such high quality that for 25 years they did not degrade at all and they kept their smooth surface.

This growth and renovation of the water pipeline helped supply the city with 120 thousand cubic meters per day by 1941.

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Water treatment station “Dnestr” in the thirties. The photo is from the archive of the Dnestr museum

Water by coupons

The German air attacks on Odessa started by the second day of World War II. Usage of the water pipeline became more difficult: at night all its facilities had to be carefully darkened. Starting from July 9th the enemy artillery, located on the shore of the Dnestr near the village of Palanka, started a systematic bombardment of the Dnestr station. Beginning July 22, massive enemy air attacks on the city started and often were repeated several times a day. In these conditions, water supply to the city did not stop even for one hour. By the beginning of August, when fascist troops had almost surrounded Odessa on land, there appeared a direct threat of takeover of the city by the enemy. The Supreme Command was ordered to defend Odessa as much as possible. On August 8th, the city was officially listed as under siege. On August 11, the Dnestr station was closed, and its staff went to Odessa, but the station was not bombed. By that time there were 80 well-holes drilled in the city. Drilled wells in businesses were returned to operating order and supplied with pumps, and old tanks in people's houses were cleaned out. On August 14, eighteen staff members of the Dnestr stationvolunteered to go to the station, and if it had not been taken over by the enemy, to start it for several hours for the city. The station was not occupied, so they started the boilers and turned on one machine. Odessa received 40 thousand cubic meters per day for three days. The workers left the station only a few hours before the enemy arrived.

The alternative water supply was barely providing for the city. The staff of the water pipeline quickly started to drill new wells. Beginning August 21, the station commander was ordered to obscure and tape up all water supply valves as well as cisterns in bathrooms. Washing yard toilets with water pipeline water were also prohibited. The order was enforced according to the martial law at that time.

The second half of August and the first half of September of 1941 were very hot in Odessa and there was almost no rain. Enemy planes were dropping pamphlets promising to provide water from the Dnestr if the defenders stopped fighting. In September 1941 the executive committee of the city decided to make a decision to set up a coupon system for water – one person could get half a bucket of water per day. After the occupation, the Odessa Dnestr station experienced stoppages and technical difficulties associated with the political climate. In the spring of 1943, Romanian engineers arrived at the station with a team of mechanics and started to remove the equipment of the electric station and a new pumping station that was put into operation just before the war.

In the early morning of April 7th 1944, a bomb squad organized by Hitler arrived at the Dnestr station with the order to blow it up. The bomb squad encircled the group of workers and demanded that they bring explosives to the facilities. The workers ran away, and the bomb squad didn't dare to shoot them for fear of attracting the attention of the Red Army. At the same time, a staff worker from the station, Anna Kostetskaya, ran out on the road from Belyaevka to Mayaki, where cavaliers of general Pliev were walking. She notified them of the threat to the station, and the bomb squad was stopped before they could detonate their explosives. Nonetheless, the Dnester station was in the immediate battle area for another four months. The water pipeline water came to Odessa only by September 1944.

From wells to Infoxvodokanal

After the war, the restored Dnestr water treatment station could not completely satisfy the drinking water needs of Odessa’s population. The main problem was the system of slow filters that, while effective, had a number of disadvantages: in the winter the pools formed an ice crust, and in the summer cleaning the top dirty layer was a cumbersome task.

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Dnester water treatment station during reconstruction in the sixties. The photo is from the archive of the water treatment station “Dnestr” museum.

In the seventies, a new purification system was built refered to as “fast filters”. The Dnestr station switched to a principally new scheme of water preparation: through a power canal the water reaches fast filters, where it goes through complex purification. It settles, gets processed by reagents, coagulates, and is then sent through filters and neutralized by chlorine compounds. This system of water preparation operates in the Odessa water pipeline even now.

The water pipeline in good hands

For the Odessa water pipeline, the nineties were marked by a change in ownership. The enterprise first existed as a private company, then a municipal enterprise which led it to degrade even more. Finally, in December 2003, Odessa city council for the first time in Ukraine gave the full property water pipeline complex up for rent for 49 years to a private company: INFOX. This was the way in which Infoxvodokanal came into existence. At the time it was rented, the state of the construction and the equipment of the enterprise was near critical: themain equipment had only 45% of its usable lifespan remaining, and losses and undocumented expenditures of water in the water pipeline network were at 45%. Neither water pipelines or sewage pipelines had been upgraded and new equipment for emergency situations hadn't been invested in for years. The enterprise was barely surviving, reflected by low salaries and the absence of funds to exchange used caps, fittings, etc.

Water without a schedule!

One of the main conditions for signing the rental contract was the start of around-the-clock water supply. For more than 130 years, since the start of Odessa water pipeline, the water to the city was supplied according to a schedule: never more than 18 hours a day. It was predicted that by the end of 2005, the water supply in Odessa would become around-the-clock. Building reservoirs with clean water, rebuilding failing areas of the water pipeline system and optimization of the work at the pumping stations allowed this unscheduled supply to be achieved 8 months before the pre-set deadline. The start of around-the-clock water supply immediately reduced the number of broken-down leaks from 100 to 20 per day. Around-the-clock water supply has also positively impacted the quality of water. When supplying water “according to a schedule” the so-called “leftover water” gets stuck in the pipes. Chemical processes that then take place negatively impact the coating of the pipe, and in this way lead to a reduction in water quality. Round-the-clock supply allowed for the continuous flow of water in the pipes, allowing the quality of Odessa tapwater to become equal to that of water in the reservoirs at the Dnestr water treatment station.


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In the picture: a panoramic view of the Dnestrwater treatment station today


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In the picture: the Zapadnaya water pumping station today


Another important condition of the rental contract was to reduce the losses in water supply. At the moment of INFOX’s arrival the losses in water pipelines were 45%, and are now not above 38%. Lately, in the framework of the Tasis program, the central chemical-bacteriological laboratory was verified by European experts and was confirmed as absolutely reliable. The Dnestr station and the central lab were completely cleaned, making clean water is accessible to the Odessa population around-the-clock.

However, the Dnestr water purifying station, restored after the war, was not able to completely satisfy the need of Odessa population for drinking water. The main barrier was the system of slow filters, whileeffective, had a number of disadvantages: in the winter the pools formed an ice crust, and in the summer cleaning the top dirty layer was a cumbersome task. That is why in the seventies, a new system of water purification was built – the so-called “fast filters”. The station “Dnestr” switched to a principally new scheme of water preparation. Water from the river goes through fish-friendly constructions and then goes into a water settler. It is hundred meters long, and the water takes ten hours to pass through it. During that time, various suspensions fall to the bottom. This is the first stage of water purification through the so-called “slow filters”. Then the water reaches fast filters, where it goes through a full complex of purification – it settles, gets processed by reagents – coagulates, then passes through filters and is neutralized by chlorine compounds. This system of water preparation operates on the Odessa water pipeline even now.

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In the picture: Fish-friendly fences at the Dnestr water treatment station are working automatically today


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In the picture: Natural “slow filters” of the Dnestr water treatment station

Elena Milova, the press-secretary of Infoxvodokanal, exclusively for the site www.infox.ua

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