Main Archive: Salt found instead of water in Moscow

October 8, 2020

In Moscow’s Main Archive, there is material on how the city’s communal problems were solved in the 1930s, including that of the water supply.

In 1917, the water pipeline in Moscow provided an average of 13.3 million buckets of water per day, with 85 percent of it taken from the Moskva River. The remaining 15 percent were taken from the Mytishchi Pipeline and other sources. Back then, two million people lived in Moscow, and every person used 4–4.5 buckets of water per day.

However, at the end of the 1930s, the situation changed. The number of large industrial enterprises that needed to use a lot of water grew significantly in Moscow. This is why in 1932 a daily supply of 37 million buckets of water was required from the city water supply system. Moreover, by 1933 the capital's population had grown to 3.6 million and the resources of the Moskva River had become scarce.

In 1931, the drilling of artesian wells to extract groundwater began. This water could be made drinkable, but more often it was used for technical purposes, since it was impossible to organise a purification system at every well.

In June 1931, the Moscow Council decided to begin drilling experimental artesian wells to extract water from huge depths. It was believed that the soil deep down had accumulated significant reserves of water, which could be used for technical purposes for a long time. Moscow’s Main Archive has photographs of the excavations at Nikita the Martyr’s Church in Old Basmannaya Sloboda and on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment.

The drilling of an experimental extension well that was named the Devon Well (like a period in the Paleozoic Era) began in late 1931. It was supposed to pass near the construction site of the First Moscow Sausage Factory. The cost of the job was approximately 515,000 roubles. However, during the drilling process it became clear that additional technical re-equipment was needed.

Initially, the drilling was carried out by the percussion-rod method, when the drill is inserted into the well on special metal rods. In 1932, experts decided to switch to the rope-and-drop method, when the bit is constantly lifted, turned and dropped into the hole on a rope. However, both these methods were only really good enough for wells that were 250 ̶ 300 m deep, and the smallest depth where Devonian rocks could be found was 330 m. Thus, by September 1932 the cost had increased to 663,000 roubles. The equipment could drill as deep as 580 m but no water was found.

The Sobolev Institute of Geology and Mineralogy came to the rescue. In 1932, it managed to drill a 730-metre-deep well in search of brine. In late September 1932 the institute overtook the works at the Devon Well following talks.

In May 1933, the Moscow Council decided to drill down to 730 m. At that depth, the diameter of the well would be 305 mm so that full-scale research could be carried out. In October 1933, the Sobolev Institute of Geology and Mineralogy continued to drill down as deep as 1,200 m.

However, water was never discovered. The problem was solved four years later when the Moscow Canal was opened. Even today it supplies running water for most places in Moscow. And brine research came in handy during WWII when Moscow lost a lot of sources of salt. Back then, a salt factory opened in the city. It worked for two years and used the supply from underground salt layers.

xcavation on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. Late 1930s - early 1940s.Moscow’s Main Archive


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