Sanitary Works of the Nation (Spanish: Obras Sanitarias de la Nación, abbreviated OSN) was a state-owned company of Argentina dedicated to supplying the public with running water and sewer services. Established in 1912, the company’s operation area included mostly the Buenos Aires Province area.
The company had different denominations and was privatized during the presidency of Carlos Menem with influence from the French group Suez, the Spanish company Aguas de Barcelona, and other private groups like Banco Galicia.
In 1824 the government of Buenos Aires, under the administration of Bernardino Rivadavia, took out an international loan from Baring Brothers to build the port of Buenos Aires and the construction of a potable water system in the city. Nevertheless, those works were never carried out.
The yellow fever epidemic of 1867 caused a huge sanity problem that led the local authorities the need of constructing a structure for wastewater treatment. Therefore, the government committed Irish engineer John Coghlan the project of sanitation of Buenos Aires through the construction of a sewage system. The system run from Recoleta district and consisted of two iron tubes that dig 600 meters deep in Río de la Plata to carry out the water to the sanitation plants. After being purified, the water was sent to city to be distributed.
Works began in 1868 and finished in April 1869. Therefore, Buenos Aires became the first city in América with filters to potabilise water (in the United States it began in 1872). Buenos Aires had 177,000 inhabitants by then. By 1880, the network built by English engineers John Bateman and John Coghlan since 1874, covered most part of the city. The system was based on the British model that they had brought to Argentina. Nevertheless, the population of Buenos Aires increased considerably during the following years, as a result the system was not efficient enough to supply the high demand.
During the presidency of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in 1870, with a city that was about to duplicate its population within 20 years, a new project to expand the system was designed, hiring specialised engineer John Frederick Bateman. A new plant was built in Recoleta, where the National Museum of Fine Arts is located nowadays. In 1887, during the Miguel Juárez Celman‘s administration, the service was privatized, granting concession to British company “Buenos Aires Water Supply”. Nevertheless, the contract was cancelled one year later.
The National government took over the service in 1892 through law n° 2,927/1892, also creating the “Comisión de Obras de Salubridad”. The method would be also applied in other provinces and cities within Argentina. By 1905, the Bateman’s project had finished, with the new plant in Recoleta, a big depot in Avenida Córdoba (known as the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes; lit. “Palace of Running Waters”), tubes network and drinking water distributor, external sewer, works under the Matanza River and five of the biggest storm drain. Nevertheless, by 1908 Buenos Aires had more than 1 million inhabitants, becoming the main commercial center of the country and one of the main cities over the Atlantic Ocean due to the commercial trade with European countries.