Warsaw’s water gauge and other Vistula water gauges

Autor: Kmdr por.rez., kap.ż.ś. Adam W. Reszka    

Warsaw’s water gauge and other Vistula water gauges

Three water gauges were used along the Vistula in the 19th century. Two in the Duchy of Poland in Zawochoście and in Warsaw and one in Prussian partitioned Toruń. They played an important informational role for navigating on the Vistula and for captains of vessels in particular. Going on a voyage without knowing the state of the water was and is risky.
Currently, a staff water gauge is used in Zawichoście at 287.6 km. Traces of the old floating water gauge can be seen next to it. The navigable state of this water gauge is 350 cm, and an alarm state is 680 cm.

There was a very modern water gauge at 513.8 km in Warsaw just beyond Śląsko-Dąbrowy Bridge. Built in the 1930s on the initiative of engineer, Kazimierz Rodowicz (father of “Anoda”, participant in the conspiratorial campaign “Under the Arsenal”) at that time it was located beyond Kierbedzia Bridge. During the widening of the Vistula it was taken down. The current Warsaw staff water gauge has nothing to do with modernity. The navigable state on the Warsaw water gauge is 230 cm, and an alarm state is 650 cm. The state of the water is announced daily by IMiGW at 11.57 am on Polish Radio Program 1 and also on the internet (www.pogodynka.pl). The lowest noted state in Warsaw was 68 cm as an absolute minimum on 3 and 5 September 1992. The end of July 1844 is considered to have been a disaster time, when the state of water on the water gauge in Warsaw at 863 cm was deemed to be the absolute maximum in the history of recording the levels. The next flood equal to the previous great flood, with the water level on the Warsaw water gauge at 856 cm came at the end of June 1884, during the construction of the intake station for the Lindley waterworks. At that time the Vistula changed it riverbed in many sections, as well as in the region where the pump station in Czerniaków was being built. In this area the river moved away from the old bank by 550 m, so that the end of the suction pipe ended up half a kilometre from the water. This disastrous flood flooded Wilanów Park, Siekierki, Czerniaków and on the other side Praski Park. All of Saska Kępa was under water. The last great flood took place in spring of 1917. There was a jam when ice moved near Las village. When the water could not flow along the riverbed, it flooded all the Czerniakowskie plains. According to an official report, “the water flooded all the villages on the left bank starting with Wilanów, and Siekierki village, where the water reached 2 m, only thanks to a row of big poplar trees it was saved from total devastation by the ice floes”. After moving the jam the ice flowed down the river and created a new jam on Pelcowizn; the flood flooded Pelcowizna and Bródno, and “in the city centre it flooded Powiśle, with great strength it pushed in mounds of ice on Łacha Praska, currently the area of the Trading Port, battering ships, jetties and houseboats. The Warsaw Rowing Society jetty was thrown over onto Skaryszewskie Łąki, and the municipal scoop dredger was thrown on the banks of the Kamionkowski Lake. Water near the Kierbedzia Bridge reached 8.44 m”. The frequently occurring low water levels created serious navigational difficulties. While in the 19th century the lowest water level at 155 cm recorded in 1863 was considered to be ‘the end of the world’, today in the middle of the navigational season levels on the Warsaw water gauge below 100 cm are considered normal, where as to the navigational level there is a water deficiency at 150 cm.

On the Philadelphian Dyke in Toruń there is a stylish, 19th century Prussian water gauge, that up until recently was still in use. Currently, the municipal authorities do not take care of it, which is a real shame as it is a tourist attraction for this place.

Since 1917 Warsaw has not experienced the so-called ‘hundred year old’ flood waters, unlike Wroclaw in 1997, when the Odra River flooded half the city. However, one day unexpectedly the ‘hundred year old flood waters’ will visit Warsaw, and that is why it is about time that we started to think about it.

The project ‘Protecting the habitats of priority bird species of the Vistula Valley under conditions of intensive pressure of the Warsaw agglomeration’ (wislawarszawska.pl) has received a grant from the Financial Instrument for the Environment (LIFE+) and from the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management.