The story of water and its role in the development of Derry: Part 2

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Following the demise of the Linen industry in 1830, several other industries would eventually fill the employment void e.g. ship-building (Biggar’s) rope making (Cable St) and whiskey manufacturing (Watts) – all requiring a reliable water supply, writes Paul Strawbridge.

However, Derry was to witness the extraordinary growth of the Shirt industry from the 1850s. By 1920 the city had 44 shirt factories employing 18,000 people, 10,000 outworkers.

This was the catalyst which forced Londonderry Corporation to develop three new reservoirs in Creggan. The reservoirs and water-mains were built in stages between 1849 and 1880.

The catchment extended to some 640 acres over the townlands of Springhill and Creevagh. The quantity of water in daily use in 1881 was 650,000 gallons. This scheme would for a time meet the growing demand.

By the 1890s the lower reservoir at Creggan (now used for water-sports) would only be used for street washing via a separate pipe laid to Strand Road.

This ‘untreated water’ was used to flush away manure from horses and ponies – which was the responsibility of the County Borough Council. Additionally, as a measure to conserve millions of gallons each year, the Abattoir, Cattle Market and Electric Generating Station would be switched to this untreated supply.

Inishowen Water

Due to their strategic use by the Admiralty, Buncrana and Moville were the first areas in Inishowen to receive a piped supply by 1890.

We can still see remnants of the military presence in Buncrana when we pass the little ‘tin holiday homes’ at Ludden Beach.

Hundreds of personnel were encamped in Tepees in the fields behind these houses. Dunree Fort was said to be equipped with ‘hot running showers’ even before the Lough Swilly Hotel had running water.

By contrast Muff would only receive their mains water by 1959.

Great Water Famine

By 1895 the Corporation were again looking at increasing the water supply. The options investigated included; The Crana River, Cabry River at Quigley’s Point, Mintiaghs, Lough Ash and Burntollet.

By 1904 a new reservoir site had been selected and constructed at Killea, with a 12” main laid into Creggan Middle. However, within a short time, demand had again outstripped supply. During a particularly dry spell in 1911 factories were faced with either paying to have water transported from the Waterside by lorries using galvanised tanks, or to close down production. In 1916 boreholes were sunk into the gravel beds along the Faughan. The press at the time referred to the fact that the city will be supplied by’ ice-age water’.

the Banagher dam

In a report to the Corporation dated, March 15, 1915, Mr Mathew Robinson, City Engineer, recommended that the best supply of water for the present and future needs of the city was to be obtained in Banagher Glen.

He also recommended that the Cabry/ Quigley’s Point proposal be abandoned, because in his opinion, after a number of years personal observation its disadvantages, seriously outweighed its advantages. The fact that Derry’s water supply could have been located in Donegal would have caused serious repercussions following partition.

Banagher Dam is the tallest dam in N. Ireland at 42 metres. It has a maximum water depth of 28 metres and a crest length of 100 metres. The capacity is 500 million gallons and it extends to 1.5 miles in length. Mathew Robinson had difficulty in convincing a sceptical corporation that this was the best option – especially as two similar dams had previously collapsed in Wales.

The Banagher scheme was sanctioned by the Imperial Parliament in 1918. Mr Robinson, who was also responsible for Austin’s and the Craigavon Bridge, unfortunately died in 1929, before the scheme was completed in 1935. At the time, this was a massive engineering and logistical project, e.g. 8,000 tonnes of cement was transported by train from Larne to Dungiven and then taken by horse and carts up a narrow path to the dam site.

The pipeline from Banagher to Corrody in the Waterside was over 20 miles long, and was dug using pick and shovel. Twin pipes were laid under the Foyle and up to Creggan middle reservoir. The pipe line was extended in time to serve Dungiven and to Strabane for a period.

World war two

Inevitably, once again from the 1940s demand began to increase.

This was due to an increase in the standard of living. Homes were moving away from using outside toilets and the use of privies. Some were beginning to install washing machines and indoor bathrooms.

During WW2 (as had been the case during the Siege) the city had over 20,000 service men stationed locally, and nearly 200 ships which needed constant supplies of water. Statistics from the Corporation’s Water and Fire Brigade Committee showed that the usage of water by shipping increased from 1 million gallons in 1939 – to 18.2 million gallons per year by 1942. This meant that Banagher was routinely exceeding its design capacity of 3 million gallons per day and therefore water quality could be compromised.

The Faughan Supply

By the late fifties, the city was attempting to attract new industries to Maydown Airfield.

These new industries; Du Pont, BOC and Coolkeeragh, etc, were ‘water hungry’. The former Londonderry Rural District Council thus commissioned and developed the River Faughan Water Supply Scheme. This involved constructing a barrage or gates across the river at Campsie and pumping raw water nearly 2 kms from the river to a new treatment plant at Upper Campsie – above CFC Interiors.

The Faughan Scheme (Carmoney Water Treatment works) and Banagher (Caugh Hill) have both undergone several major upgrades since their initial construction.

Temporary fixes

From time to time various temporary water supplies were required.

In 1917 a steam engine pumped water for a number of years from the Burngibbagh Burn near the Apprentice Boys Graveyard at Church Road, Tullyalley up to Tamneymore Reservoir near Corrody. In 1985, temporary pumping stations were constructed at Mabouy to seek out the ‘Ice age’ water of Ardlough and another pumping station at Lowry’s Lane (Glen Road).

Improved Quality

The quality and quantity of water from both Banagher and Carmoney has increased over the years. EU Drinking Water Directives prescribe a range of standards which must be attained e.g. levels of Aluminium etc. These targets are closely monitored and reported on.

Carmoney produces 18 mega- litres / day (18 million litres) but has the capability to produce 40 M / litres. Banagher also produces around 20 mega-litres, but has the capacity to produce up to 45 mega-litres. With the laying of ring-mains around the city – we now have in essence a dual supply - not in the sense that one plant could supply all needs - rather that either plant could pump water in any direction required.

Thanks to the fore-sight and ingenuity of previous generations of engineers and corporation officials, Londonderry, Dungiven and surrounding districts are thus assured of a continuous good quality water supply for many years to come.