Wouda Steam Pumping Station (World Heritage)

Wouda Steam Pumping Station

The pumping station near Lemmer, which went into operation in 1920, is based on plans by Dirk Frederik Wouda. As an auxiliary pumping station, it still pumps excess water into the IJsselmeer today.

Wouda steam pumping station: facts

Official title: Wouda steam pumping station in Friesland
Cultural monument: DF Woudagemaal, the world’s largest ever built and still working steam-powered pumping station, consisting of a machine and boiler house with the original machines
Continent: Europe
Country: Netherlands, Friesland
Location: Lemstersluis (IJsselmeer), Lemmer, northeast of Amsterdam and southwest of Heerenveen
Appointment: 1998
Meaning: a milestone in the fight against the water threatening the Netherlands

Wouda steam pumping station: history

1913 Planning the pumping station
1917-18 Construction of the pumping station
1920 Construction of the centrifugal pumps and inauguration of the pumping station

Water, water, water…

For centuries our neighbors have lived in the “lower lands” with the violence of the Meuse, the Rhine and the sea. Year after year, in tough struggle, they wrestled a large part of today’s inhabited areas from the ebb and flow of the tides as a polder. Without the use of human, wind and steam power in the construction of dams and dykes, we would not be able to discover Amsterdam, with its numerous canals, on pedal boats today: the capital of the Netherlands would in places be completely buried under the floods. According to cheeroutdoor, the Amsterdam forest to the south was also more like a lake landscape with a water depth of up to four and a half meters, were it not for the many pumping stations, drainage ditches, catch basins and the final dam of the Zuiderzee.

In the past, flood disasters were part of everyday life: In Friesland, the water demanded its toll when the dikes broke on the night of February 4th to 5th, 1825 and 17 people lost their lives. The water always seemed overwhelming, even if hydraulic engineering made progress over the centuries. As early as the 15th century, the Dutch developed the first pumping stations from the grain mills, which “ground water” using wind power in order to drain the deep polders. At the beginning of the 17th century, the technique of polder drainage was refined by arranging several windmills one behind the other – the so-called »Mühlengang« was born.

But in the long run these measures were not sufficient to cope with the threatening floods. Even the excavation of the Nieuwe Zwemmer and the Opeinderkanaal in Friesland did not help much: In August 1894, 285 square kilometers were under water, while the pressure on the existing collecting areas grew steadily. Fortunately, technological developments at the end of the 19th century made the use of steam power more and more possible. And so Dirk Frederik Wouda designed a steam-powered pumping station with a boiler house and an engine house for the drainage of the agricultural areas in Friesland, which was built during and after the First World War in just four years of construction.

Four steam engines and two centrifugal pumps form the technical heart of this »industrial monument«, which is now used as an auxiliary pumping station. Originally, the task of this pumping station was to drain excess water more quickly from the so-called »Frisian Mahlbusen« into the IJsselmeer. Today, however, it is primarily used to relieve the locks at Harlingen, Dokkum and Zoutkamp and the Hoogland pumping station at Stavoren. This always happens when these hydraulic structures can no longer transfer the water masses to a sufficient extent in the Lauwerszee and IJsselmeer. Once the pumping station at Lemmer is in operation, it normally draws 65 cubic meters of water per second. The peak load is even 70 cubic meters per second. This corresponds to an operating performance of around six million cubic meters in 24 hours. From the outside, the visitor sees a simple, functional industrial building made of brick with high, three-part arched windows through which the outside light streams into the machine hall. On the occasion of Queen Wilhelmina’s celebratory opening of the pumping station, the commemorative publication of the Jaffa machine factory, which manufactured the steam engines, says just as straightforwardly: “The only decoration is the paneling with glazed tiles. The walls above the paneling are made of the well-known yellow Frisian hand-painted. The roof is made of iron. ”

In the meantime, the boiler system has been replaced and converted to oil, as this reduced the necessary preheating time from 24 to six hours. But this pumping station is still rightly regarded as the work of the century in hydraulic engineering: the largest (and only still working) steam-powered pumping station in the world to date.

Wouda Steam Pumping Station