Bizkaiko Industri Ondarea / Patrimonio Industrial de Bizkaia / Industrial Heritage in Biscay.

Elorrietako Bondeagailua. Bilbo / Bombeadora de Elorrieta. Bilbao.

Joaquín Cárcamo Martínez

Mens sana in corpore sano. The Elorrieta pumping station in Bilbao

«When the 1885 cholera epidemic paralysed the mines and industry of Vizcaya, bringing onto the agenda as never before the subject of public health, the town of Bilbao was still supplied by water from the river, the same river into which all the city’s sewage was tipped. Mortality rates were excessively high, at about 40 per thousand, and the debate did not delay in reaching the Town Council. It was initiated in 1890 and the following year a competition was run for selecting a preliminary sanitation plan which was won by the entry entitled Mens sana in corpore sano, presented by the already well-known road engineer, Recaredo de Uhagón, who had just drafted andpublished a sanitation proposal for Valladolid. Amongst the jury were prestigious architects, such as Achúcarro and engineers such as Churruca and William Gill, the sought after director of La Orconera, who were in a position to appreciate Uhagon’s familiarity with the latest techniques and the feasibility of the solution demonstrated by the plan’s winner.

When Uhagón presented his definitive proposal in 1894, Bilbao had 63,900 inhabitants. The engineer believed that he was being generous in his previsions and made his calculations based on a population of 100,000 having a rate of water consumption of 100 litres per inhabitant per day. The proposal featured a dynamic sanitation system —totally eliminating cesspools— with a separating system involving double mains. That is, it proposed conserving the existing mains for rainwater, which would flow directly into the river, and to construct a new sewerage system to collect exclusively the sewage, by means of mostly inaccessible pipes having a cross section approximating real requirements.

This new system was to be formed by three sewage collectors, two on the left bank of the river and one on the right bank, which starting from San Francisco and Atxuri would collect the sewage from Bilbao, crossing the river by means of siphons at La Merced and Deusto and thus conveying it to Zorrozaurre, where a large tank with a capacity of 12,000 m3 would have to be built. Its purpose was to regulate the work of the pumps installed in the adjacent machine house, which would transfer the sewage through a 10,123 m conduit measuring 60 cm in diameter to the mouth of an accessible tunnel at La Galea in Getxo through which it flowed directly, without being purified, into the open sea at a point seven metres above the low tide mark.»