Canal de Isabel II: 169 years of progress

Since its foundation in 1851, Canal de Isabel II, the publiclyowned company responsible for managing the integrated urban water cycle in the Autonomous Community of Madrid, has combined excellence with a vision of the future to créate one of the most successful and widely-acknowledged urban water cycle management systems.

Canal de Isabel II was born almost 170 years ago for the purpose of addressing the technical and social challenge of making the growth of Madrid feasible, thereby preserving its status as capital of the kingdom. This growth was in jeopardy due to the scarcity of a resource essential to progress and the survival of the city…water.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Madrid had less than 10 litres of water per capita per day to cover the needs of the population: water for drinking, personal hygiene, cleaning, irrigation…It was the era of the viajes de agua (old network of underground canals for water supply) and water carriers, because, unlike other European capitals, Madrid did not have a large river or lake to provide a reliable source of supply.

At that time, Madrid had a population of over 220,000, who were still supplied through the viajes del agua, subterranean collection canals that provided 7 litres of water per capita per day, which was insufficient to meet the needs of the people. Moreover, the city began to suffer significant health problems due to lack of higiene and water scarcity. The continuity of Madrid as capital of the kingdom was at stake.

After several years of unsuccessful projects to palliate the situation, Extremadura native Juan Bravo Murillo, President of the Spanish Cabinet under the reign of Isabella II, entrusted the task of bringing water to Madrid to two engineers, Juan Rafo and Juan de Ribera. Their preliminary design of 1848 proposed a brave and risky solution: storing water from the Lozoya River and conveying it to the capital by means of a large infrastructure that would solve the problems of scarcity. On June 18, 1851, Queen Isabella II signed the Royal Decree authorising the works necessary to supply water to the capital, thus sowing the seed that would later lead to the creation of our company, Canal de Isabel II. The Royal Decree called for the construction of a dam at the point where the Lozoya River flows into the Jarama River, and the construction of a canal of over 70 kilometres in length to carry the water in the reservoir to Madrid.

Belén Benito, Director of Operations at Canal de Isabel II

Published in: FuturENVIRO Nº 71 June-July 2020