Going strong: Bengaluru's first piped water system

Going strong: Bengaluru's first piped water system

Laid during the colonial era and commissioned by the Maharajas of Mysore in 1896, the pipeline covers about 20 kilometres

The colonial administration commissioned the chain of tanks known as Miller’s tank in the erstwhile cantonment area in 1873. Credit: DH Photo

Not many people know that more than a century-old drinking water pipeline is still used in Bengaluru.

The first scientifically laid pipeline dates back to 1896. Laid during the colonial era and commissioned by the Maharajas of Mysore, the pipeline covers about 20 kilometres, connecting Hesaraghatta and some central parts of Bengaluru.

In fact, Bengaluru has three pipelines connecting with the wider rural region: the Hesaraghatta pipeline (1890s), the TG Halli pipeline (1929-33) and the Cauvery pipeline (1970s).

A recent research study on old water pipelines by researchers Sudhira H S, Prof Vanesa Castan Broto and Hita Unnikrishnan, has brought out some interesting facts.

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Sudhira stumbled upon the idea of studying Bengaluru’s water pipelines when he was at the Indian Institute of Science as a researcher and stumbled on the ‘Pipeline Road’ in Malleswaram. 

“It was intriguing to notice a road called Pipeline cutting across the northwest part of the city. I wanted to dig deeper and understand its background and history,” he says.

The beginning

He says around the 1870s, the city felt the need for “well-laid infrastructure” to draw water and meet the requirements of three lakh people. 

After they realised that the water from Halasur, Shoolay and Pudupacherry tanks would be inadequate to meet the growing needs of the civil and military stations, the colonial administration commissioned the chain of tanks known as Miller’s tank in the erstwhile cantonment area in 1873.

Residents of the City depended on the old Karanji system (a system of supplying water to forts from the Dharmambudhi and Sampangi tanks), supplemented by the water from the Kalyanis and wells. However, the Great Famine of 1875-77 and failure of monsoons, saw all tanks in the city and cantonment run dry. 

Natural calamities, coupled with growing demand, finally led to the commissioning of the Chamarajendra Water Works in 1894, which changed both the water and the urban history of Bengaluru.

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“Sir K Seshadri Iyer, the then Dewan of Mysore, noted the need for augmenting water supply to Bangalore in 1892. It was decided in 1894 to draw water from Hesaraghatta across the Arkavathy and the project was named ‘Chamarajendra Water Works’. The aim was to provide a population of 2.5 lakh people with 55 litres per capita per day,” he points out.

The first modern pipeline using an iron tube was laid in order to bring water of the Arkavathy River to the areas in and around the High Grounds locality.

“Today, this pipeline can be traced back to the Hesaraghatta tank, crossing the central district of Malleswaram, the northern neighbourhoods and the sprawling suburbs across the different administrative boundaries. Along its route, the pipeline is integrated into the urban fabric in a manner that reveals the history of urban development in the city,” says Sudhir.

A masonry duct leading from the Hesaraghatta reservoir to Tarabanahalli and Soladevanahalli, a pipeline connecting Tarabanahalli to the military-governed regions of the city, and a pipeline from Soladevanahalli to the main city of Bengaluru via the 'Combined Jewell Filters' (built by the Jewell Filtration Company) — at one point, all of these took care of Bengaluru’s water requirements.

Second pipeline

Two decades after the first pipeline was commissioned, the Mysore government appointed a committee in 1926 to ascertain whether setting up the Bangalore water supply system would be a solution for the growing water crisis. 

The committee studied new sources capable of supplying 6.9 million gallons per day of water. It considered Mutkur tank (below Hosakote tank), Hosakote tank, Yellamallappa Chetty tank, Vrishabhavathi valley and Arkavathi valley. It finally chose Arkavathi valley as a capable source.

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Thippagondanahalli was chosen for the construction of a dam based on the consideration of cost and depth of storage. A full reservoir was estimated to supply water for 31 years at 6 million gallons per day without any inflow at all. 

The distance was 17 miles from the Combined Jewel Filters. And the second major water pipeline was subsequently laid. 

This network began feeding water to the areas off today’s Magadi Road, Vijayanagar and the neighbourhood. “Today, though the Combined Jewell Filters are not in operation, they remain emblematic of the city’s water history and development,” he says.

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