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Gvendarbrunnar – Reykjavik Municipality Waterworks

Region: Reykjavik Area
Coordinates: 64.0676° N 21.7640° W

Our existence has always depended on water. The first settlers in Iceland relied on an easy access to potable water, when choosing their settlements. Water could be found either in nearby wells or it was ducted to the farmsteads. At the turn of the 19th century, about 34 wells or springs were located in Reykjavik. The water was often unsanitary and in 1906 typhoid epidemic broke out in the capital. The bacteria was found in the water in one of the wells. Campaign for a new water system ensued and was led by the county physician, who later became director general of health in Iceland.

This tragic event and the fact that there was never quite enough water for domestic consumption, led to the construction of the Reykjavik Water Works. In November 1906 an engineer, who later became the prime minister, was asked to make plans for a water works company. Two years later work began on this ambitious construction project, which was in fact the largest ever undertaken in Iceland. On June the 16th, 1909, water started running through a pipeline from the Ellida river and the Water Works were operational. Later the same year the pipeline was extended farther east to the cold spring area Gvendarbrunnar in the municipal conservation area Heidmork.

At last, the citizens of Reykjavik had an easy access to plentiful clean and uncontaminated water supplies. Consequently the water consumption rose abruptly from 18 l per person per day to more than 200 l. Five water tanks, containing 20 million litres, have been constructed in the capital area. A 2 million litres tank, 85 m above sea level, supplied by 10 – 15 wells, is situated in the conservation area Heidmork. The distribution network is approximately 300 miles long. The first pipeline had a diameter of 250 mm and carried 38,5 l/sec. The new pipelines have a diameter of 1 meter and carry about 900 l/sec. It is important to maintain a thorough evaluation and to monitor constantly the conditions of the network and pipelines. Computerized listening devices for leak detection were introduced in 1988. This has reduced operation expenses greatly and eliminated time consuming searches for leaks. Diesel powered generators are used in the pumping stations if and when power failures occur. In 1994 the Water Works’ companies were categorized by law as food production companies. The water is tested and analyzed on a regular basis by the Health Authorities.

In 1995 the Reykjavik Water Works decided to adopt and tailor a quality control system to its processing needs according to the ISO 9000 standards. Air pollution is not a problem in Iceland compared to other industrial nations because of its isolation and sparse population. Therefore the conditions are quite favourable for the production of clean potable water. The water is pumped from wells reaching down 10 – 80 meters from the surface.

The estimated consumption per person per day is 535 litres. A family of four persons uses 20 litres for cooking, 15 litres for drinking, 15 litres for washing up, 150 litres for laundry, 220 litres for bathing, 40 litres for the lavatory, 10 litres for watering the garden and 10 litres for car wash.

Pictures: OR brochure 2009.

Next to The Municipal Waret Works are Raudholar the remainder of a cluster of pseudo craters within the boundaries of the capital. They date back approximately 4600 years and are situated in the so-called Ellidaar lava field, northeast of Lake Ellidavatn. They are prominent because of their reddish colour.

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