Kilpauk (Chennai) Water Works, first ever water treatment plant in the Presidency - British Raj!!

 Among the lesser known heritage sites of Chennai is the landmark red colored European style building  in Kilpauk, a suburb of Chennai  that houses the city's waterworks providing piped water supply to a large part of the city. It is functioning under the  Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB). About 108 years old, it supplies 270 million litres of water every day to Chennai and takes care of much of the city's potable water needs.

he Kilpauk Water Works in

The red-brick colonial building on the New Avadi road. Kilpauk, Chennai  with its  sprawling green campus  will definitely  tempt  the passersby  to  look at it again. Nearly 108 years old,   Kilpauk Water Works, Tamil Nadu’s first wastewater treatment plant,  remains the primary source of water supply system in the State capital. Spread over nearly 66 acres, the water treatment campus has masonry shaft (6ft ht)  weir and red bowl like masonry structure. The stored water from the red hills was supplied to George Town and other prime areas through iron pipes without any treatment.  From 1872 to 1914 the water was conveyed through open channel system. The greater part of the water supply network system is very much preserved. In 1856 and 1986 additional lines were  laid to supply more water to the required places.  The  heritage colonial  structure has a capacity to treat 270 million litres a day. The plant came up because  the open canal supplying water from the Red Hills to Kilpauk shaft  and then  distributed to George Town and Mylapore, got polluted, causing wide spread water-borne diseases; this led to the construction of Wastewater  treatment plant.

Kilpauk Water Works in

Above image: A view of the Kilpauk Water Works in Madras. Pumping station and steel balancing tank are also seen in the background................... 

Kilpauk Water Works in Madras.

Above image: The Kilpauk Water Works under  Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) The 177 ft chimney (smokestack) to let out the smoke that came from the coal-fed steam engines, old boilers and steam engines and other machinery are remnants of past era.......................................

J.W Medley, engineer Madras presidency.

The Kilpauk water treatment plant ("sewage treatment") was,  established  in 1914 and  it was  large enough  to handle 80 million litres per day to meet the demands of the growing capital city and its population.  Normally, sewage contains wastewater from households and businesses and in some cases pre-treated industrial wastewater. The credit goes to J W Medley, engineer of Madras Municipal Corporation,  whose engineering feat made the water works  run successfully. It was a well-planned and executed engineering work  in the field of waste water management and treatment which plays a crucial role in this modern world because of depleting water resources, including potable water. He designed the plant to last longer and could cover a population of about 600000 in the future.

No doubt  Medley, is dubbed as ''the father of Madras’' water supply and sewerage disposal system as he popularised it in this part. In those days in the absence of electricity, steam engines were used to run the plant. Madeley's predecessor Hormusji Nowroji, sanitary engineer who completed much of the piped system of water supply in Madras is called father of piped water supply system, but little is known about him as he was an Indian..  

scientific Wastewater treatment process.

This process,  that includes various phases such as sedimentation, biological and  chemical (oxidation), is aimed at  removing and eliminating   contaminants or polluting load -  natural carbon, supplements, inorganic salts, metals, pathogens and so on  from wastewater. Then it is converted into  an effluent that can be returned to the water cycle. So, treated water can be used as reclaimed water. The advantage is the treated water can be disposed of easily  and is reused for various purposes (called water reclamation). It will prevent air and water pollution and keep  the environment safe.  Anaerobic digestion plays a crucial role in removing organic pollutants., so is the Aerobic treatment in a conventional activated sludge process.  

Till 1778, water was drawn from wells, ponds and lakes to meet the requirements of Madras.   In order to meet the  demands of the less populated  city, the local  administration was just dependent on  the water drawn from  from wells, ponds and lakes In the wake of famine in the 19th century and looming dry spells, in 1816   Madras Collector,  Francis Whyte Ellis,  commissioned 27 wells to improve the water supply. J.A. Jones, who was responsible for water supply from the Red Hills reservoir. “In 1851, Sir Arthur Cotton and Colonel O'Connell in 1870 came up with proposal to resolve the  potable water crisis in Madras. The latter diverted the water from from Kortillaiyar to Sholavaram and Red Hills lakes.  Water from Red Hills  was supplied through the Kilpauk open water channels. In 1872, it was  decided to supply water  through pipes with the construction of inclined shaft.  Medley  from 1910 to 1932,  converted open supply channel to closed supply channel at the Kilpauk Water Works   using only steam engines  sand filtration and chlorination. Madley developed 14 slow sand filters, which are still part of the plant and it is based on the principle that ''bacteria will eat bacteria.  It has three layers   the first has bricks; the second, pebbles, and the third, sand.   According to  Metrowater engineers “The water through this process was 99.9 per cent pure,” This system was replaced by one that used chemicals along with rapid sand filter technology''.  In 1935, Medley installed two electrical pump sets  to pump out 4.5 million litres of water an hour. To meet additional water needs  a third pump set was in place in 1948. The 80-year-old pump sets are still in use and Metro Water engineers believe they will last another 100 years.

The old structure  at Kilpauk is fitted with a tall massive 60 foot steel tank near the entrance to the plant. The  overhead tank with a capacity to supply 6.8 million-litre had  supplied water to the city until last year.   A high tension pump installed in the later years in 1936 is still  working and taking care of the water needs of this city in this part. To augment the capacity of processed water, a second water tank was built in 1966 when Congress ministry was in power.  

A legacy of  erstwhile the British Raj, it is good that some of the pieces of machinery still work and give inspiration to the young engineers. An unfortunate fact is the solid contribution  made by Medley's predecessor Indian, Hormusji Nowroji until 1912  with respect to piped water distribution system in Chennai is not widely reported. A product of College of Engineering, Guindy, he was the first sanitary engineer in govt's  employ -Madras Municipal Corporation..