One hundred years ago, a new capital was created – Greater Prague. However, it was not a newly established city, but a unification of several dozen hitherto independent suburbs and cities. At the same time, it was not a clear act, but it was behind several decades of failed negotiations and agreements.
Only the emergence of a new state and the arrival of new elites on the political scene nearby, so that a fragmented agglomeration could form in the fragmented territory, which could develop as a single organism. In addition to future challenges for further development, however, the new city also brought with it a legacy of the current problems not only of the original royal capital, but also of all former independent municipalities. One of the worst was the water situation.
The disparate mix of 38 independent municipalities, originally forming the Prague suburbs, caused a number of problems not to be solved centrally, but as dozens of small momentary responses to local needs. Thanks to this, or rather because of that, there is still a number of forgotten water works on the territory of today’s Prague, which are slowly disappearing as relics of times past, or have been changed for a completely different purpose. For a total water supply solution, accidents and only available meet the immediate needs of the city or suburb. These included the original Vltava waterworks in Prague, including the Žofín waterworks, the newly built former Podolská waterworks, belonging to Vinohrady or Prague, as well as a number of small operating waterworks in Libno, or a small waterworks below Letná. The reasons why Prague did not connect with its suburbs before were prosaic – the four largest suburbs, Smíchov, Karlín, Žižkov and Královské Vinohrady, blocked all negotiations after several decades due to fears of losing political influence and financial losses after the settlement of the apartment tax.
It was not until the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries that the construction of a central waterworks in the village of Káraný was agreed. However, the Káran waterworks was not intended for everyone – its construction paid for Prague and the already mentioned largest suburb, and the possibility of expanding its water pumping to other municipalities was possible, but before the outbreak of the First World War it was not on the agenda. Even so, it was a revolutionary act that brought real drinking water to the territory of today’s capital for the first time. With its launch, the operation of all local waterworks, belonging to the cities and suburbs that were part of the group financing its construction, was gradually terminated. Other settlements in the territory of today’s Prague were still dependent on their resources, and therefore, for example, the Vršovická waterworks in Braník, instead of ending its operation, underwent modernization and expansion.
After the founding of Czechoslovakia, everything was suddenly different. The old suburbs took advantage of the situation and decided to merge, because it was clear that this would happen anyway. The situation bothered them, their current selfish attitude could be hidden until the pre-war period. However, the whole process was eventually carried out by the then Ministry of the Interior, and no one was asked about the wishes and requirements of the cities and suburbs. The capital city of Prague thus suddenly acquired another 37 municipalities, from independent cities such as Královské Vinohrady, to agricultural villages such as Ďáblice, Jinonice or Ruzyně. And although the whole process took two years (a law was passed in 1920, a final merger in 1922), a number of problems arose.
The main thing was the water supply. The merger created a legal, but also a moral, obligation for Prague to take care of all its inhabitants equally. For the developed old suburbs, this meant greater financial commitments, and small villages and villages, on the other hand, accepted it enthusiastically because they found that they no longer had to deal with water supply concerns on their own. The problems that the municipalities had so far, however, did not disappear overnight and only manifested themselves in full. Local resources ceased to be sufficient due to the massive migration of villagers to the city for work. The new waterworks in Káraný not only did not have such an output, but the existing pipe network did not even reach the new settlements, because it was never planned. Although it was planned to introduce water to new districts such as Střešovice, the remnants of Břevnov, or Prosek and Kobylisy, it was a question of the future. The suburbs in particular had no hope of an early connection due to difficulties with easy physical connections due to their location.
As water from public sources was not available at all in various parts of the city, it was necessary to build at least outlet stands in the new districts, connected to the Karan water supply system. This was the case with Nusli, which was found to be a problem. At the same time, the already closed local pumps often had to be reopened or new wells dug in the outskirts of the city. The original pumps were undesirable for operation because their water quality was more than dismal and did not help much in the fight against typhoid fever, which was related to water shortages. The problem of the existing wells on the outskirts of the city was also their location – they were often located on private land, where the owners did not allow their use.
The city thus had to resort to the depth of new wells, which at least temporarily helped to bridge the time before it was possible to introduce Karan water into the locality. But even the existing water sources, which were more or less in order, were not ideal – the Vltava floods infected these water sources and caused typhus epidemics, which happened in Podbaba and Hlubočepy in 1924. In the case of some places, such as Hostivař or Záběhlice, the water even committed itself for a while, because typhus epidemics broke out in the given places regularly and only by supplying clean water was it possible to help the situation. The city also tried to reduce the price of sodas and minerals by reducing the tax imposed on them to make them cheaper than beer. Part of the population bought them relatively expensively, when there was no more. This turned out to be an odd solution, with reduced tax and sales so increased because margins and prices did not fall at all.
The situation calls for a new solution. Even during the war and just after its end, the re-launch of the original Vltava waterworks was briefly considered. However, their operation would be more of a situation, because their treated water did not reach the qualities of Karan water. Moreover, it was not even advantageous in the long run. Already in 1919, the catchment area in Káraný was expanded, and subsequently this step was taken once again. Despite this, it was clear that a new waterworks would have to be built. Based on the plan of Ing. Vancla from 1920 therefore managed to push through the construction of the current Podolská waterworks, which gradually gave way to the two old existing Podolská waterworks. Together with the Karan waterworks situation, it was finally at least partially stabilized by a substantial expansion of the outlet stands to the outskirts. However, it was not until the construction of the Želivka water treatment plant in the 1970s that the whole of Prague experienced a sufficient supply of drinking water.
Kryštof Drnek, PVK, illustration photo archive PVK
20.4.2022 11.06, Rubric: What we should know about water, Water supply and sewerage, Statistics and cases