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Our history

Veolia Water's origins date back to the Second French Empire (1852-1870) and the founding of Compagnie Générale des Eaux.

A few dates chosen from among the many highlights of a company more than 100 years old illustrate our ability to leverage technological innovations (ultra-filtration, nano-filtration) and our commitment to meet the needs of populations, as laid out by the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.


Imperial decree, 14th December 1853

Setting up of Compagnie Générale des Eaux

Compagnie Générale des Eaux is founded and obtains its first public service concession to supply water to the city of Lyons.

On the initiative of Napoleon III and throughout the entire Second Empire, the creation of private companies to operate the urban water systems opens the way for modernization and enhances the quality of life in towns and cities.

Count Henri Siméon embodies this dynamism when he founds the Compagnie Générale des Eaux in 1853: "In the new times ahead, be certain, sirs, that millions will be allotted to the supply of water, just as millions were allocated to railways previously".

This momentum gathers even more pace when it becomes part of the Saint-Simonianism movement, whose members played an active role in the modernisation of France. It was led by Prosper Enfantin (1796-1864), one of the directors of the Company, and also a board member of the Lyon - Mediterranean Railway Company.


Inauguration of the concession at St Mark's Square in Venice 20th June 1884


The first international subsidiary

Creation of the first international subsidiary of the Compagnie Générale des Eaux with the right to supply drinking water to the city of Venice.

The Venice concession, inaugurated in 1884 with all the pomp of the "Serenissima" (Venetian Republic), embodies the internationalization of the Company outside its borders - Italy (Verona, Naples, Bergamo), Switzerland (Lausanne), Portugal (Porto) and the Ottoman Empire (Constantinople).

The Company thus develops in tandem with the increased urbanization of the 19th century.

Building site of the water system under the Grand Canal in Venice in 1884

This first series of contracts is followed a century later with the winning of major contracts by Veolia Water in Europe (Prague, Bucharest, Budapest), in the USA (Indianapolis), in China (Shanghai), in Australia and in Africa (Morocco, Gabon).


The Saint Clair laboratory in Lyons in 1930

Setting up a laboratory at rue d'Anjou in Paris

In order to ensure the quality of the Parisian water supply, Compagnie Générale des Eaux opens its first laboratory in the centre of Paris, at 52 rue d'Anjou, which is still the company's historic headquarters.

This first laboratory, which ensures that the water supplied to customers is of a very high quality, will be followed by the opening of other scientific centers, such as the one in Lyons in 1930, then the Research Centre at Maisons-Laffitte in 1983, Veolia Water's main water operations research centre.


Krüger : pioneer in water treatment processes.

L'ingénieur Iørgen Krüger

The Danish engineer Iørgen Krüger establishes his water treatment company in Copenhagen.

Within a few years Krüger is an international company operating in London, Berlin and Leningrad, and opening representative offices in Scandinavia.

Before the First World War, Krüger had already patented and developed several innovative processes for the sterilization and titration of chemical products, which it markets not only in Europe but also in the USA and in South America.


Life expectancy of French women born between 1816 and 1905.

Source: "urban French Mortality in the Nineteenth Century". S.H. Preston, in Poupaltion Studies (July 1978) 32, 2, 275-299.

New water services and an increase in the life expectancy of women

At the turn of the 20th century the new water services in the major towns and cities contribute towards an increase in life expectancy.

In 1978 the Cambridge researchers, S.H. Preston and E. van de Walle, publish a study on the increase in life expectancy of French women from 1816 to 1905 in the three largest cities (Paris, Lyons, Marseilles). This study shows that this is mainly due to the arrival of water treatment and sanitation systems.

Significant improvements are first felt in Lyons, where Compagnie Générale des Eaux was founded in 1853.
Since 1855 the availability of abundant filtered and purified water contributes to a revolution in hygiene.
In 1902, Paris is justly said to be "the cleanest city in the world " due in part to the doubling of its sanitation system between 1870 and 1902.
By 1903, almost 50 years after the creation of Générale des Eaux, the life expectancy of women in Lyons has reached the same level as that of women living in the countryside.


Marius-Paul Otto

The first ozonation plant

In 1905 a major technological discovery - using ozone gas to sterilize water - will complement or replace the use of chlorine.

It will be used for the first time at Compagnie Générale des Eaux's Bon Voyage water treatment plant in Nice.

In 1907, after completing his thesis, Marius-Paul Otto establishes Compagnie des Eaux et de l'Ozone - the first company to promote the use of ozone to sterilize drinking water.

The headquarters of Compagnie des eaux et de l'Ozone.

During the coming century constant advances in research and development will lead to innovative techniques such as activated carbon adsorption, ultraviolet rays and finally membrane filtration including nanofiltration.

The first industrial use of this cutting-edge technology will take place at Méry-sur-Oise in 1999 for the greater benefit of those living in the Paris suburbs.


Installation ans maintenance of water mains by Sade since 1918.

Setting up of Sade

A company specializing in water and wastewater systems

Officially founded on the 1st October 1918, Sade (Société Auxiliaire des Distributions d'Eau) was set up on the initiative of Compagnie Générale des Eaux to assist in the operating of water services by designing and constructing water mains.

Rehabilitation of the sanitation system in Istanbul, summer 2004.

Equipped with a major research department right from the very beginning, since 1919 this new company, operating in the water and wastewater sectors, has gradually moved into all those sectors which require the design and construction of whole network systems (gas, electricity, communications).

Involved in every stage of the water cycle (from abstraction to wastewater disposal), Sade has rapidly increased its operations in France (Arras, Lyon, Rouen), and used its expertise internationally (Far East, Europe, Africa) in order to respond to the growing need for building new network systems and rehabilitating existing ones.


1953 : Construction of the water treatment plant at Clay Lane

Construction of the Clay Lane

Construction of the water treatment plant at Clay Lane begins in 1953. This new water treatment plant just outside London has the same capacity as eight previous smaller sites would have had.

It is the first stage in what, in 2001, will become the largest ultrafiltration plant in the world, supplying 750,000 inhabitants with high quality clean drinking water.

2001 : the ultra filtration process at Clay Lane

Ultrafiltration occurs at the end of the water treatment process. Micro-organisms, viruses and bacteria are eliminated as they pass through porous straws (the size of a pencil) each one containing 9,300 membranous fibers with pores 0.03 micron (the size of a pore in human skin) in size.


Expansion of the Choisy-le-Roi water treatment plant in 1962 (© SEDIF)

Move to rapid filtration

Move to rapid filtration by sand and activated carbon

During this decade the move to rapid filtration improves the productivity of water treatment plants. As a result, they are able to meet growing consumer demand for water at a price which is acceptable to everyone.


1982 : Maisons-Laffitte

The research centre "Anjou Recherche"

In 1982 a new research centre "Anjou Recherche" is founded, based at Maisons-Laffitte near Paris.

The 130 researchers at the research centre Anjou Recherche have the most sophisticated tools at their disposal such as modeling, digital simulation, logistics and artificial intelligence.

They lead a network of experts working in laboratories over five continents and provide innovative and rapid solutions to the ever more complex problems of treating and supplying drinking water and collecting and treating wastewater.

Researcher at Anjou Recherche

The researchers at Anjou Recherche work closely with experts from other R&D departments within VE on those areas which also affect other divisions such as sludge and industrial effluent.


Customer Service Center in Lyon - France

First customer service center

In 1997 the Greater Lyons area sees the opening of the first customer service centre for water supply customers in France.

Veolia Water developed the concept of customer service centers in order to be on call to its customers 24/7.

The first customer service centre is set up in Lyons in 1997. It allows consumers from the designated supply area to telephone a representative at any time enabling them to receive information about their bill, water quality and how much water they have used. They can register as a new customer or inform the company that they are moving out of the supply area or make an appointment to be connected to the mains. The concept of customer service centers has now been extended to 8 countries around the world.

Customer Services Centers have been in operation in 8 countries since 1997 and have contributed to an improvement in customer relations.

Annual customer surveys carried out by independent organizations testify to the growing satisfaction of consumers with this service.


Kosovo, 1999-2000 : Emergency operation.

Setting up of Waterforce

In 1998 two major natural catastrophes (Cyclone Mitch in Nicaragua and the flooding of the Yangtze River in China) leads Veolia Water to create an emergency humanitarian response unit : Waterforce.

Waterforce's role is to intervene as quickly as possible anywhere in the world by sending in a team of experts and equipment to the affected area to assist the local authorities in dealing with the crisis. Its partners are the French Red Cross, Caritas France, UNICEF, the emergency services, local authorities, etc.

Every year Waterforce mobilizes dozens of volunteers providing up to 1,500 days worth of assistance. Waterforce's experts also provide more general technical support to the local population and local authorities thanks to its initiatives in training and development, primarily as part of its local co-operation projects (Waterdev program).

Thanks to its network of 500 volunteers from amongst the staff at each of Veolia Environnement's different divisions, Veolia Waterforce's volunteers use their expertise to safeguard the supply of basic services and thus avoid outbreaks of epidemics.




1999 - Installation of nanofiltration at the Méry-sur-Oise water treatment plant for the Greater Paris water authority - Syndicat des Eaux d'Ile-de-France (SEDIF)

Veolia Water chooses a major technological breakthrough - nanofiltration - in order to supply the Greater Paris area with water of unparalleled quality. This highly sophisticated membrane system is able to filter out any undesirable colloidal substances whose presence in raw water is continually on the increase. It therefore reduces the amount of products used in the treatment process (140,000 cubic meters a day).

The water treatment plant at Méry-sur-Oise provides the Parisian suburbs (4 million inhabitants) with high quality water thanks to a membrane process developed by researchers at Veolia Water.

Nanofiltration process at the water treatment plant at Méry-sur-Oise (© SEDIF)

This process, first used in the medical world, has been adapted by researchers at Veolia Water to allow for its use with large volumes of water and for the large scale production of drinking water at prices suited to market demand. Nanofiltration has been used since 2002 in Coliban, Australia, to treat up to 126 million liters of water a day.


Site d'Hyundai petrochemical Co., South Korea

Veolia Water expands its industrial outsourcing services

Veolia Water consolidates its presence in industry by winning major industrial outsourcing contracts in South Korea.

In 2000 Hyundai Petrochemical Co. chooses Veolia Water to operate its drinking water plant and its industrial water plant at its petrochemical complex in Daesan (a port situated 170 km south of Seoul). The water treatment plant there is particularly sophisticated with one of the largest reverse osmosis units in Asia.

Veolia Water employees at the Hynix Semiconductor Inc. site, South Korea

In 2001, Hynix Semiconductor Inc. awards Veolia Water (in association with Korean financial institutions) a twelve year contract to operate its four ultrapure water treatment plants, four drinking water plants, two industrial wastewater plants and one plant for the recycling of ultrapure water for its semi-conductor plants (Ichon, Ganam, Cheongju and Gumi).


Shangai Pudong - China.

Cities around the world

Cities in Europe, USA and China are choosing Veolia Water

2002 - Veolia Water expands its operations in the municipal outsourcing of water services to major cities such as Bucharest in Rumania, Berlin in Germany and Shanghai in China.

This year sees strong international growth. Veolia Water goes from strength to strength in countries which have a tradition of publicly managed water services due to its ability to adapt to the specific requirements of each client, and the fact that the client is able to benefit from the company's technological expertise. Its ability to share its expertise and to anticipate the needs of towns and cities undergoing rapid development but with outdated infrastructure are decisive advantages for local authorities.

The city of Shanghai/Pudong selects Veolia Water to operate its water services for its 2 million inhabitants for a period of 50 years. With this new partnership, Veolia Water is called upon to solve technical, organisational and personnel problems on an unprecedented scale such as integrating public sector employees and training them in customer care while at all times respecting local cultural differences.


Prague during the flooding in summer 2002.

Helping with the floods in Prague

Veolia Water goes into action during major flooding in Prague

In the summer of 2002 Veolia Water has to use all of its expertise in ensuring the continuous supply of drinking water while the waters of the Vltava are flooding Prague.

Veolia Water employees at the Podoli treatment plant during the flooding in 2002.

The Group is able to manage such a situation efficiently thanks to the exceptional efforts of all of its employees, its technical expertise and its international experience.

While Prague is under water, Veolia Water employees ensure the continuous supply of drinking water for all of the inhabitants, even though some of the employees' own houses have themselves been flooded.

The Charles Bridge during the 2002 flooding in Prague.

Since 2001 Veolia Water has provided the water supply for the Czech capital. Veolia Water now serves more than 620 local authorities in the Czech Republic representing 3.9 million people.


Water is a central concern for Society

The 3rd world water forum in Kyoto was one of the culminating points in the International Year for Freshwater.

" [This forum] specified the reforms and financial resources necessary to halve the proportion of the world's population without access to drinking water and sanitation by 2015. A world working group put forward proposals which, if diligently applied, would enable us to meet that challenge. Approved by the G8, the proposals have led international financial institutions to change their methods and operating rules. If everyone—governments, international organizations, the corporate world and, of course, consumers—works toward the same goal of water for all, the dream for humanity can come true."

Michel Camdessus, Former Managing Director of IMF,Chairman of the World Panel on Financing Water Infrastructure.

In daily life, the summer 2003 was marked by a historical heat wave in Europe. Veolia Water teams worked day and night to ensure continuity in water service to consumers.


Laboratory for water-quality analysis

China's unique high-tech services platform

The new services platform set up under the contract awarded by the city of Shanghai for its Pudong district in 2002 applies Veolia Water's most advanced technological solutions.

High-tech control center

The platform brings three key services together in one place:

  • a laboratory for water-quality analysis equipped with ultramodern instruments, which monitors over 100 quality parameters for the water plants and distribution network ;
  • a high-tech control center, which manages water distribution and monitors all of the facilities in real time based on indicators defined with the municipality. The facilities include six water treatment plants, eight pumping stations and a 2,500 kilometer network, covering an area of 320 square kilometers. The center will provide valuable assistance for decision-making during peak periods ;

Customer services center

  • a customer services center providing personalized response around the clock for a demanding and quickly expanding population in this key business district.


Humanitarian relief

2005 was marked by three exceptionally destructive natural disasters: the tsunami in South-East Asia on December 26, 2004, which killed 200,000 people; Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans on August 29, 2005; and the earthquake in Kashmir on October 8, 2005, which left 3 million people homeless.

Veolia Waterforce, the emergency aid unit of Veolia Environnement that is manned by a team of volunteer employees, was on hand to assist in all three disasters. In the three months that followed the tsunami, Waterforce produced more than 25 million liters of drinking water in Asia.

In Louisiana, it installed a mobile water treatment line for the town of Kenner, near New Orleans. And in Kashmir, it provided the Thuri refugee camp with drinking water.

2005 -2006

"Compagnie Générale des Eaux" becomes "Veolia Water"

In November 2005 Veolia Environnement brought together its four Divisions under one common name - Veolia.

This move, along with a new logo, reflects the will of the entire Group to build overall consistency between its divisions and to raise the company's profile.

Having already synergized its research and training resources, this development by Veolia Environnement affirms the commitment of its 270,000 employees around the values of its services.

In France, Compagnie Générale des Eaux became Veolia Eau. The main subsidiaries abroad took the name Veolia to which was added the word "Water" in the language of each particular country such as Veolia Voda in the Czech Republic and Veolia Wasser in Germany.


Creation of Grameen-Veolia Water Ltd

A pioneering social business experiment

Veolia Water is committed to helping achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. It participates in efforts to find new business models that promote access to essential services, for replication on a larger scale.

In 2008, we launched the first "social business" experiment in the field of water with Grameen Bank, a micro credit lender to the poor, created by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Yunus.

A joint venture, Grameen-Veolia Water Ltd, was founded to provide drinking water for 100,000 poor residents of Bangladesh, a country in which most of the water tables are dangerously contaminated by arsenic. In accordance with the social business model, residents pay for their water — its price is set by Grameen-Veolia Water Ltd based on their ability to pay — and all profits are reinvested into the project to finance its operation.