Water Department History

Late 1800’s

This era of early development in the city’s history was marked by wooden water main fed by springs in the areas between Baker and Witter Streets on what was then the City of Grand Rapids’ east side. This type of rudimentary infrastructure was sufficient to meet the simple needs of the time.


The City of Centralia Waterworks was founded primarily to provide fire protection service to what is now the City of Wisconsin Rapids’ west side. A pumping station was built where Cleveland Street intersected the river and water was pumped directly from the river into the water mains.


The first residential water tap is installed.


An ordinance for the construction of a water pumping station on Third Street South was brought to a vote. The water pumped by this station originated with springs located in the same general area. The Third Street pumping station remained in service until 1946.


A special election was called by the Common Council of the City of Grand Rapids to consider issuing bonds to fund the building of a water works utility. Upon approval, the Council proceeded to issue the bonds and construction began.


An ordinance was passed by the City of Grand Rapids to issue bonds for the purchase of the City of Centralia Waterworks. The City of Grand Rapids (the east side) and the City of Centralia (the west side) had been consolidated in 1899 to form the City of Grand Rapids. With the purchase of the Centralia Waterworks in 1903, the two water systems of the formerly separate cities were connected and operated as one entity.


A comprehensive review of the water utility was undertaken by a consultant who advised expansion of the 16th Street development and the installation of an iron removal plant at the same location.


The water system was expanded by installing a pumping station at 16th and East Grand Avenue. A series of shallow wells were also built and connected to the new pumping station. The addition of the iron removal plant was not undertaken. This would lead to years of quality problems with the water supply.


A U.S. Geological Survey published that year described the overall state of the City’s water system:

“Grand Rapids, with a population of 6,521 has many private wells 20-40 feet deep. The City recently installed a system of shallow wells or springs 6-24 feet deep near the Wisconsin River. Intake piping from the river connects with the system to provide emergency capacity. An average of 300,000 gallons of water is pumped daily and approximately 40% of the City’s households are connected to the water system.”


As water shortage problems became more commonplace a decision was made to hire a geologist to study the water system and make recommendations on expansion and improvement. The geologist determined that continuing to use the small local springs in the vicinity of the Third Street Pumping Station to help supply the City was not a viable long range option. The geologist proposed the utility pursue expansion of supply at the 16th and East Grand Pumping Station area despite the presence of high iron content in the water there. The utility followed the geologist’s advice and installed the system’s first collector style well on the 16th Street property. A review of Water Department statistics for 1921 revealed the following:

  • 1,061 water services
  • A total of 14 million gallons of water pumped annually
  • 24.8 miles of water main were buried within the City limits
  • 163 fire hydrants existed to provide public fire protection
  • 1 water tower located on the East Side of the city with a capacity of 168,000 gallons


General obligation bonds were issued for construction of an iron removal plant at the 16th and East Grand site at an approximate cost of $45,000. The same consultant who had recommended construction of an iron removal plant at this very site 13 years earlier is retained as the Consulting Engineer for planning and engineering the new plant. The Water Utility now pumped nearly 31 million gallons of water to 1,578 customers. The new collector and iron removal plant satisfied the water needs of the City adequately until the early 1930’s.


As growth in the City spurred residential and commercial development, a need for an expanded water supply became apparent. A second collector type well was added in the area east of the 16th Street pumping station. Temporary well points were also sunk and water was pumped with gasoline pumps during the summers of 1943-1944 to alleviate temporary shortages.


As frustration over the quantity and quality of the water supply grew, the Utility accepted a bid from Layne-Northwest for construction of a new well field.


This period was marked by extensive improvements to the water system including:

  • Installation of seven vertical type wells in a new well field developed south of Two Mile Avenue and east of Eighth Street. New 16” & 14” transmission mains were also installed to deliver the water from the new well field to the 16th Street pumping station.
  • 52,950 feet (over 10 miles!) of 10”, 12”, 14”, and 16” feeder mains were built throughout the City to improve pressure and distribution.
  • A new 16” main was built under the Grand Avenue Bridge to improve reliability and service to the City’s west side.
  • Construction was completed on two 400,000 gallon elevated storage tanks. These water towers, one at 10th & Franklin on the east side and the other at 14th & Alton on the west side, remain in service today.


Chemical testing and pilot plant results were conducted to determine the best method for treating the water supply. As a result, the Utility Commission and Common Council approved plans to build a new treatment facility at the site of the 16th Street pumping station. Ground was broken for construction in early September, 1949.


Construction is completed on the treatment facility and it begins operating on July 14th, 1950. The plant includes one accelator and is capable of treating 4,000,000 gallons of water daily. It immediately produces a marked improvement in the taste and quality of the City’s water supply. Water usage statistics in the City of Wisconsin Rapids now reveal:

  • 3,147 customers
  • 438 million gallons of water produced annually
  • A daily peak of 2.5 million gallons of water
  • Nearly 45 miles of water main
  • 335 fire hydrants in service


The seven vertical wells built in the mid-1940’s had become less and less efficient due to iron incrustation. The commission decides to build three Rainey style collector wells in order to produce water of sufficient quality and quantity. With a combined pumping capacity of 5 million gallons of water per day, Collector 1 is built at 4311 16th Street South, Collector 2 at 2520 Two Mile Avenue, and Collector 3 at 3621 Airport Avenue. Collectors 1 and 2 are placed into service immediately.


Water usage has increased dramatically since the utility’s early days. Usage statistics reveal:

  • 3,988 customers
  • Nearly 498 million gallons of water produced annually
  • A daily peak of 3.4 million gallons of water


The utility purchases 37 ½ acres of land on 64th Street near the Bloody Run Creek for $2,000. This land would later become the site of Collector #4.


Water demand in the City continues to grow and soon exceeds the pumping capacity of Collectors 1 and 2. A decision is made to place Collector 3 into service. These three collector style wells continue to help serve the City’s water needs more than 50 years after their construction.


The treatment capacity of the 16th Street Filter Plant is reached. Adjacent to Accelator 1, a new accelator is built capable of treating 6 million gallon of water per day. It expands the treatment ability of the Filter Plant to 10 million gallons daily.

1963 – 1970

This period of time was marked by the delivery of water service to large areas of land that were annexed to the City from the Town of Grand Rapids. Construction to lay water main and install water services to households affected by this took several years to complete. The area annexed lay south of Daly Avenue. This era was capped in 1970 by the expansion of Eighth Street South to four lanes from East Grand Avenue south and the subsequent relocation and rebuilding of the water main, water services, and fire hydrants along this newly renovated major traffic artery.


New 12” water main is laid on 25th Avenue to extend service to the City’s newly developed Industrial Park at an estimated cost of $21,816.


New laterals are installed in Collectors 1, 2, & 3 to rejuvenate the wells and bring their operational capacity back to their original performance specifications.


A Wisconsin certified water bacteria laboratory is started in the 16th Street Filter Plant. It offers water testing for public and private wells at a nominal fee for City and area residents.


The pumping capacity of Collectors 1, 2, and 3 is reached and Collector 4 is built at 6610 Griffith Ave. The Utility engages in an ambitious implementation plan to mitigate the effect the new well will have on the aquafer in the area. New residential wells and compensation are offered for households adversely impacted and the well is placed into service. Capable of pumping 3 million gallons of water daily, Collector 4 remains in use today in order to help meet the City’s water needs.


An elevated lime storage and handling facility is built adjacent to the 16th Street Filter Plant. It automatically introduces lime to the water treatment process.


On January 6th the 16 inch water transmission main feeding the East and West side water tower breaks about 4:30 PM in the 1500 block of Peach Street. The rupture in the main pipe leading out of the16th Street Filter Plant spills 500,000 gallons of water onto streets in the area and drains the entire water system in 15 minutes. With system water pressure reduced to dangerous levels, the utility issues a citywide boil water directive to ensure the water is safe for consumption. Utility employees work feverishly through the night in temperatures that reach -10F to replace a 15 foot section of the pipe that suffered a diagonal crack. Water service is restored to the city the following morning but the boil water directive remains in effect until safe water tests are obtained from specific locations on the water distribution system.


A filter backwash water recycling system is brought online at the 16th Street Filter Plant. It greatly reduces the amount of water required to backwash the filters in the plant.


Ground is broken for a 2 million gallon water tower near the intersection of Highway 54 and County W just east of Lincoln High School. It brings the elevated storage capacity of the utility to 2.8 million gallons, just shy of the average used daily of 3.1 million gallons.


Accelator 2 is taken offline in the winter when water demand is reduced. It is rebuilt and put back into service in the spring.


The Utility Commission decides to bottle its municipal water. The water is put into 20 ounce bottles and is made available to booster clubs and charities at no cost in order to resell it as a source of revenue. The program proves very popular with local organizations and helps serve notice to people that their municipal water supply is of the highest quality.


Collector 5 is built at 2111 Whitrock Avenue. The vertical style well has a pumping capacity of 750,000 gallons daily and begins service in August to compliment the water supply provided by Collectors 1, 2, 3, & 4. Collector 5 remains in use today.


The Water Utility has experienced tremendous growth since its early days. Usage statistics now reveal:

  • 8,763 water customers
  • 1,050 fire hydrants
  • 848,292 feet of water main (nearly 161 miles!)
  • 3 elevated water towers
  • Nearly 1.1 billion gallons of water pumped annually


The project to replace all 8,000 water meters with advanced “smart meters” is completed. Electric and water meter reading information for all 22,000 of the combined utilities’ meters is now available for both distribution systems literally with the push of a button. One of the first tangible benefits customers realize from this state of the art technology is to move from quarterly billing of water and sewer charges to monthly, making it easier to track usage and budget for their utility bills.

Also, the wells at Collector 2 and Collector 3 are cleaned and refurbished, bringing the pumping capacity of these wells, built in 1954 and now nearly 60 years old, back to 100% of their original designed volume.

Water Department Vital Statistics