According to documents, resources and the general consensus, the provision of water in Istanbul will be examined within the framework of three main periods which are (i) Roman and Byzantine, (ii) Ottoman and (iii) Republican. Each period reflects a specific water culture.1

Dating back thousands of years, the water culture and economy of Istanbul originated in the Byzantine Empire; was remolded in the Ottoman era; and obtained its genuine identity in the Republican period. This Ottoman and Byzantine heritage gained its ultimate identity by means of new technologies, a new approach and new investments in the 21st century.

The Republican period started with the purchase of foreign water companies established in the Ottoman era. These companies are made up of the İstanbul Su Şirketi2 (Istanbul Water Company) and Üsküdar-Kadıköy Su Şirketi (Üsküdar-Kadıköy Water Company).3 The Istanbul Su Şirketi generally traded with state institutions.4 These companies served Istanbulites in the last quarter of the ninteenth and first quarter of the twentieth century, and were converted into the İstanbul Sular İdaresi (Istanbul Administration of Waters) following the purchase of these institutions by the state.5 Following its 50 years of service, İstanbul Sular İdaresi operated under the Municipality of Istanbul, and was called the Water and Sewarage Administration in Istanbul.6


1- Getting water from a fountain in Istanbul during the period of Republic(Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Kültür A.Ş.)

The Istanbul Water Administration was designed to serve as a model institution par excellence during its establishment. In order to endorse its status as a model, the institution was established as an autonomous, private undertaking bearing a legal entity.7 Some academicians expressed the opinion that the purpose and method of Istanbul Water Administration was revolutionary for the period in question, and emphasized that the young Republic of Turkey would mark a new epoch within this field.8 It was of utmost importance for the administration to be successful since the Vakıf Suları (Water Administration Foundation), operating as a part of the Istanbul Municipality, was transferred to the administration requested to benefit from these traditional waters to the utmost.9 On the other hand, the issue of the water situation on the Asian side of Istanbul and type of services to be provided to the population there came to the fore. This issue was later resolved by purchasing the Üsküdar-Kadıköy Water Company.10 Thus, water management proved more efficient in Istanbul as a whole in 1937. It is also an undeniable fact that this sort of management required financial know how and efficient staff. Some legal regulations aimed at eliminating this problem. Staff recruitment and salaries were regulated through the İktisadi Devlet Teşekkülleri Kanunu (the Act of Public Economic Enterprises) in 1939.11 In order to increase the income of the administration, it was aimed to transfer 80 % of taxes deducted from bridges and transport and part of the remaining benefits12 allocated to military families to the administration13. This financial regulation was implemented over approximately 7 years following the regulation for staff.

After continuing its activities in this way for some time, the Water Administration amended its administrative structure. Operating under Public Economic Enterprises until 1960, it began to operate as a Directorate General as of the above-mentioned year.14

Established during the formative years of the Republic, the Water Administration gradually expanded its sphere of authority. Prior to purchasing Terkos Water Company, the Republican government demanded that the company install water filtering works. This demand was later actualized by the company; however, the Water Administration expanded its filtering range and doubled its pool filtration capacity, and purified the waters further.15 The Water Administration continued its endevours at expansion and improvement. The annual amount of water supplied to the city amounted to 29,000 m3 in 1932 which is the final year of service of the Terkos Water Company, whereas annual water demand equaled to 10,500,000 m3. In 1949, the daily demand for water reached approximately 71,000 m3 compared to the annual water demand, which reached 26,000,000 m3. New fountains were built during the Water Company’s administration, and the number of fountains increased to 278 by 1950.16 Services provided by the Istanbul Administration for Waters between 1933-1980 and its service network increased substantially. There were plans to invest more in the water and water infrastructure of Istanbul, which was expected to grow exponentially in the future. Equities were considered to meet these invesments; however, insufficent local resources canalized the Istanbul Administration for Waters (İSİ) to foreign resources. It attempted to obtain a loan from the World Bank. The administration decided to cooperate with the World Health Organization in order to obtain the loan as quickly as possible. As a result, the loan was received in 1972, and İSİ services continued to be provided. Furthermore, the question of how to render the sewage system more efficient was brought to the forefront during this period.17 A great number of residential areas were included within the boundaries of the Istanbul Municipality as of 1980, and these areas began to be provided with services by the municipality. In addition, the water needs of these residential areas were met by the Water Administration.18 Supporting a considerably dense population today, these areas occupy a significant place in the economy of İstanbul.


2- Distribution of water by municipality vehicles in districts which do not have water (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Kültür A.Ş.)

The continual population increase in Istanbul was further boosted due to the fact that Istanbul served as a center of interest and the heart of commerce as well as the gathering point for many cultural and sporting organizations. This population growth commenced as of the 1950s,19 and continued into 2000 as well. From this perspective, it was necessary for a new water philosophy to be created in Istanbul, which was growing as a result of immigration.

There emerged a need for an institution which not only focused on selling water but was also an environmentally-conscious, more modern one, interested in infrastructure problems as well as bearing a sense of responsibility and duty towards Istanbul’s development and growth. İSKİ was founded in 1981 in order to meet these needs.20 The establishment of İSKİ displays differences when compared to the Water Administration. While the Water Administration was not subject to official formalities; possessed a special, corporate and autonomous structure, and a budget of which the Istanbul Municipality approved, İSKİ had a status in which its budget and balance sheet were approved by members elected by the governor and mayor as well as members designated by the Bank of Provinces, Public Water Works and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, and members elected by the municipalities that were to be provided with services. In terms of quantity and quality, the İSKİ Directorate General is based on a completely different operational principle compared to other public institutions and organizations. Serving as a model, the Water Administration carried İSKİ one step further.21 İSKİ was organized not only as a water-distributing but also an environmentally-conscious institution which invested in primary and secondary-level water-related works. The institutional structure of İSKİ was applied in Ankara and İzmir as well.22 This structure spread to other metropolitan cities later on. Responsibilities and the powers of the institution were established accordingly.

3- Waiting in queue to get water from a fountain (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Kültür A.Ş.)

Responsibilities and Powers of İSKİ

İSKİ is responsible for providing drinking water, waste water treatment and disposal, the protection of water basins and remediating streams.23

Provision of Drinking Water

Provision of drinking and utility water from all kinds of underground and aboveground resources, and the development of all types of research and projects in order to convey water to end users, and the construction, maintenance and repair of facilities suitable for the projects.

Waste Water Collection, Treatment and Disposal

Discharging waste and rain water from residences, businesses, factories, public and private institutions, and developing or subcontracting all types of projects for the process of discharge.

4- Carrying water to homes with donkeys (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Kültür A.Ş.)

Protecting Water Basins

Protecting seas, lakes, river basins, spring and source waters (located within its sphere of authority) from waste waters; preventing activities that may lead to water loss or shortages, and taking all necessary technical, administrative and legal measures regarding the above-mentioned issues.

Remediation of Streams

Cooperating with metropolitan and district municipalities in the remediation of streams, all kinds of water, sewage systems and infrastructure works.24 Although İSKİ’s sphere of authority for redimediating streams is not clearly defined, it performs this duty successfully.

After İSKİ gained a new identity as of the 1990s, its responsibilities and tasks changed and diversified. Water distribution stood out among the tasks of the institution in the 1980s while in the 1990s it laid the ground for its primary responsibilities such as finding new water resources, collection of waste water, improvement of sewerage systems and the utilization of water sources in a profitable manner. In the 2000s, conserving Byzantine and Ottoman architectural heritage became a part of the above-mentioned aims and objectives.25 The Ottoman water collection, conveyance and distribution system, fountains, sebils (public drinking fountains), water gauges and channels serve as some of the most special and rare examples of aqua architecture in the world.26 For this reason, it is possible to add architecture to the 4 main responsibilities enumerated above.

İSKİ Activities as of 1994

6 Ömerli Dam

6- Elmalı Dam

7- Pabuçdere Dam

8- Terkos Dam

In 1994, İSKİ started to advance through its investment and administrative decisions. This 10-year period proved quite fruitful for the institution. An objective was determined for each year, which had a specific mission. 1994 became the year of recovery and revival. Existing problems were resolved; debts were ascertained and plans were laid down for the following years. 1995 served as the year of moves, and mega projects of vital importance were realized that year. A good many dams, water conveyance lines, drinking water facilities, water treatment plants and elevation centers started operating. On the other hand, the environment constituted the main topic for 1996, and significant steps were taken in order to create a greener and more viable environment following the completion of investments from previous years. It was in 1997 that the Golden Horn, carrying the burden of industries, was cleaned. That year, significant projects were devised for the Golden Horn. The Marmara Sea constituted the focal point of the institution in 1998 when relevant institutions undertook to reduce water pollution and purify the sea. In the same year, conveyance lines, water treatment plants, elevation centers and water reservoirs were constructed in districts far from the center. Green basins served as the focus in 1999. Water resources and basins in Istanbul were taken under its protection. This protective move resulted in the consumption of cleaner water for both residences and businesses. The year 2000 was characterized by a focus on service quality, and the water problem was almost solved. In addition, the city reached a level in the quality of service in which it could compete on a global scale. This year also witnessed the clarification of the 2040 vision. Water quality constituted the main focus for 2001. The number of chemical and bacteriological tests conducted for the drinkability of water increased, and samples numbered 350-400 per day. Water quality met the standards of TSE 266, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Commisssion (EC). As for 2002, it represents the year of customer satisfaction. The rapid change in İSKİ attracted the attention of all walks of life. This change was considered to be the year of customer satisfaction.27 It attained its goals in a consistent manner and turned its attention to global-scale investments.

İSKİ Activities as of 2004

The rapid advance of technology and inclusion of automation techniques into practical life assisted İSKİ in improving its technological infrastructure and reaching consumers more swiftly. E-service use became widespread for subscription and other services; service quality improved and bureaucracy was considerably reduced. The SCADA system, utilized by developed countries for the distribution and conveyance of water, started to be used by İSKİ as well.28 Approximately 44 kms of streams were remediated between 2004-2010.29 Although institutions responsible for the remediation of streams were not clearly determined, the above-mentioned distance was quite remarkable. Furthermore, global-scale projects were also undertaken. The Mavi Haliç (Blue Golden Horn) and Melen Stream projects constitute the most important of these projects. The first of these projects is related to environmental consciousness and a viable environment whereas the other project is concentrated on meeting all water needs.

The Mavi Haliç (Blue Golden Horn) Project

9- Yeşildere Dam

Reclaiming the Golden Horn is one of the largest global environmental projects. Implemented as the Northern and Southern Golden Horn, this project took place in cooperation with the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and İSKİ. The reclaiming of the Golden Horn was brought forward in the 1960s for the first time and later in the 1970s; however, these reclaiming projects could not be executed.30 Following efforts in the 1990s and 2000s, the reclaiming process was put into effect. The old, slimy Golden Horn was transformed into crystal-clear, fish-rich waters. Pollution in the Golden Horn resulted from a lack of fresh water recirculation between the Marmara Sea and the Golden Horn and increasing urbanization, industrialization and marine transport.31 Owing to it being an industrial area, it was polluted by a great number of large and small factories. Institutions such as Feshane, Sütlüce Slaughter Houses, Silahtar Ağa Electric Powerplant excessively polluted the Golden Horn. These institutions were converted into various recreational areas and put at the publics disposal.32 Following investments in pumping water from the sea, the Golden Horn was endowed with fresh water circulation. Serving as an example for the cluster model of the economists, the Golden Horn also constituted an example for the externality model thanks to its environmental transformation.

Melen Stream Project

In order to compete with other metropoles, there emerged a need for generating giant projects in a global city such as Istanbul. Investments in water particularly, will prevent the city from lagging behind other metropolis, and might even outperform them. In a study covering 13 global metropoles,33 future water consumption per person, population growth rate, water reserves and the amount of water needed in these metropoles were examined, and it was found that water generated per person in Istanbul equaled less than almost the total amount of water needed by all other metropoles. The Melen Project is a project capable of competing with other metropoles in terms of the amount of water per person necessary for meeting the demand of existing and future populations. With its potential to generate added value for meeting the water needs of Istanbulians, the Melen Stream Project will increase the amount of water and catch up with other metropoles.

There were discussions regarding the foundation of the Melen Stream Project by means of foreign loans at the beginning of the 1990s.34 This issue was first mentioned by the media in 1993. The implementation of the project continued in the mid-2000s with the help of equity capital. Executed jointly by the Ministry of Forestry, Public Hydraulic Works (DSİ) and İSKİ, the first stage of this project was completed in 2012. İSKİ transferred 190,000,000 TL in order to complete the first stage of the project before the deadline.35 Starting at the boundaries of Düzce36 and finishing on the European side of Istanbul, this large-scale project is multi-faceted. Construction of a water conveyance line, dams and water treatment plants stand among the objectives of the project.37 Moreover, this is the first and only project in which water conveyance is performed by means of pipelines between continents. Part of the pipeline is installed at a depth of 135m under the Bosphorus, which constitutes a first in the world. In addition, the largest water treatment plant in Europe is included in this project. By means of this project, which aims to meet the water needs of approximately 14.000.000 people, the water needs of Istanbul and probably neighbouring provinces will have been met by 2071.38

Infrastructure Services of İSKİ

Increasing urbanization, extreme population growth, unplanned urbanization, and the need for water have brought about infrastructure problems. It has become equally vital to increase the water supply to sufficient levels and provide infrastructure services. It was during the Republican era (as of 1924) that the infrastructure problems of Istanbul started to be dealt with visibly for the first time. Both the first years of the Republic and subsequent periods witnessed the development of sewagery and infrastructure projects. Nearly all these projects are supported by foreign financial investment. The above-mentioned infrastructure ventures were to a large extent put into practice and achieved substantial success. These projects were implemented by the following: Wild, Kehr, DAMOC, Scandia-Consult and Ne-Do-Co. All these enterprises were realized before the establishment of the İSKİ while some infrastructure ventures were completed during the İSKİ administration. Under the leadership of the İSKİ, the Scientific Council on Environmental Problems (Çevre Sorunları Bilim Kurulu) was formed in 1989 for the elimination of environmental problems. This council provided substantial benefits with infrastructure activities. The 1990s served as the breaking point for sewagery and infrastructure investments. A multitude of streams were reclaimed on the European and Asian sides of the city, and a good many water treatment plants were constructed as well.39

Commencing with the Dersaadet Water Company (Dersaadet Su Şirketi), water management in Istanbul continued with the Istanbul Water Administration, and later the İSKİ which was taken as a model and subsequently spread through the country. Public institutions constituted most of the customers of the Dersaadet Water Company whereas the İSKİ’s sphere of service was comprised of residences, businesses, factories and other institutions.40 The Dersaadet Water Company operated for 50 years compared to the Istanbul Water Administration which operated for approximately 50 years until the establishment of İSKİ which has been functional for 35 years. It is also essential that the İSKİ be endowed with a different administrative structure and various services on its 50th anniversary as water bears a strategic importance in our contemporary world. There have been important discussions on how water management should be executed, and whether it should be supported by public or private institutions.41

Water has taken its place as an important parameter at both a regional and global level in recent years, and has gradually transformed into a matter of negotiation.42 It has become one of the key items categorized as ‘’scarce resources’’ by economists. At present, water-related matters are experienced in nearly in all parts of the world. The Middle East and Africa, in particular, have been subject to water-related conflicts.43 Water will become a more vital consumer product than oil and industrial goods in this geographical area particularly. From this perspective, water management is of the utmost importance. Correct water management will raise the welfare level in the country. Through legal amendments in the upcoming years, İSKİ will probably be able to generate (wind energy plants to be constructed within its own basins) and trade energy, manufacture, market and export agricultural tools, tools of irrigation, and infrastructure materials.


1 Tevfik Göksu (prepared by), Geçmişten Günümüze İstanbul’da Suyun Yönetimi, Istanbul: İstanbul Büyüksehir Belediyesi İSKİ Yayını, 2009, p. 8.

2 İstanbul Su Şirketi is also referred to as Dersaadet Su Şirketi and Terkos Su Şirketi.

3 H. İbrahim Gül, “Terkos Su Şirketi” (Phdl thesis), Marmara University, 2009, pp. 2, 95.

4 H. İbrahim Gül, “İstanbul Su Şirketinin Su Verme Serüveni, Karşılaştığı Zorluklar ve Bazı Maddelerinin Tahlili”, Bülent Ecevit Üniversitesi Uluslararası Yönetim İşletme ve İktisat Dergisi, vol. 8, no. 17 (2012), p. 119.

5 Saadi Nazım Nirven, İstanbul Suları, Istanbul: Halk Basımevi, 1946, p. 201.

6 İSKİ 2004 Activity Report, p. 14, www.iski.gov.tr.

7 Tarih Boyunca İstanbul Suları ve İstanbul Su ve Kanalizasyon Sorunu, Istanbul: İstanbul Büyüksehir Belediyesi İSKİ Yayını, 1983, p. 50; please also see Law no. 2226, the 4th credentials.

8 Tarih Boyunca İstanbul Suları, p. 51.

9 Tarih Boyunca İstanbul Suları, p. 51.

10 It is subject to Law no. 2226 by virtue of Law no. 3359 .

11 Tarih Boyunca İstanbul Suları, p. 51; please also see: Law no. 3659.

12 It is necessary to inquire whether these transferred resources were sufficient or not.

13 Tarih Boyunca İstanbul Suları, p. 51.

14 Tarih Boyunca İstanbul Suları, p. 52; please also see: Law No. 23 issued in 1960.

15 Nirven, İstanbul Suları, p. 202; please also see: Gül, “Terkos Su Şirketi”, p. 94.

16 Burhan Oğuz, Bizans’tan Günümüze İstanbul Suları, Istanbul, 1998, p. 222.

17 Oğuz, Bizans’tan Günümüze İstanbul Suları, p. 239.

18 İSKİ 2004 Faaliyet Raporları, p. 16.

19 Veysel Eroğlu, “İstanbul Su Meselesi ve Çözümü”, İçme Suyu Sempozyumu, Istanbul: İSKİ, İTÜ and Su Vakfı, 1996, p. 1.

20 Göksu (prepared by), Geçmişten Günümüze İstanbul’da Suyun Yönetimi, p. 48. Please also see: Law no. 2560. In addition, please also see some laws on İSKİ and laws concerning İSKİ: Municipality Law no. 5393, Municipal Incomes Law No. 2464, Law No.831 on Waters, Law No. 167 on Underground Waters, Law No. 6200 on the Organization and Responsibilities of the General Directorate for State Hydraulic Works, Law No.1593 on Public Health, Law No. 2872 on the Environment, Law No. 3213 on Mining, Law No. 1053 on the Provision of Drinking, Utility and Industrial Water With Municipal Administrations, Law No. 3194 on Public Construction.

21 Tarih Boyunca İstanbul Suları, pp. 53-54.

22 Tayfun Çınar, “Neoliberal Su Politikaları Doğrultusunda İller Bankası, DSİ ve Belediyelerin Değişen Rolü”, Jeoloji Mühendisleri Odası Haber Bülteni, 2006, vol. 3, issue 70.

23 İSKİ 2004 Faaliyet Raporları, p.17. Redimation of streams was fulfilled as per a commission decree in the following years.

24 İSKİ 2004 Faaliyet Raporları, p.17.

25 İSKİ 2012 Faaliyet Raporları, p. 53, www.iski.gov.tr.

26 Zekai Şen, “Osmanlı Su Dağıtım Hizmeti ve Maksem”, 1453 İstanbul Kültür ve Sanat Dergisi, no. 7 (2010), p. 49.

27 İSKİ 2004 Faaliyet Raporu, p.17.

28 İSKİ 2010 Faaliyet Raporu, p. 36, www.iski.gov.tr.

29 İSKİ 2010 Faaliyet Raporu, p. 230.

30 İSKİ ve Çevre, Istanbul: İSKİ Yayınları, no date, p. 61.

31 İSKİ ve Çevre, p. 61.

32 Mavi Haliç, Istanbul: İSKİ Yayınları, no date, p. 60.

33 13 Dünya Metropolünde Su Yönetimi: Benchmarking Çalışması, Istanbul: İSKİ, 2004, pp. 17-24. These cities are as follows: Berlin, İstanbul, Johannesburg, Cairo, London, Madrid, Mexico, Moscow, New York, Paris, Shanghai, Tehran and Tokyo.

34 Official Report on the Plenary Session at the Turkish Grand National Assembly, 1996, Session 53.

35 www.turedimuhendislik.com/melen.html

36 www.wikipedia.org./melen

37 www.iski.gov.tr. İSKİ’s ongoing projects. Melen Project Stage 2.

38 www.ibbtube.Melen.

39 Oğuz, Bizans’tan Günümüze İstanbul Suları, pp. 255-256.

40 Gül, “Terkos Su Şirketi”, pp. 65-77.

41 13 Dünya Metropolünde Su Yönetimi.

42 13 Dünya Metropolünde Su Yönetimi.

43 Lütfi Şehsuvaroğlu, “Su Savaşları mı? Su Barışı mı?”, Osmanlı Su Medeniyeti Uluslararası Sempozyum Bildiriler Kitabı, Istanbul: İSKİ Yayınları, 2000, p. 146.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.