Tacoma Water History
From the time Tacoma was first settled in 1852 until 1873, settlers obtained water directly from springs and shallow wells. Several small distribution systems were developed beginning in 1873. Many of those systems took water from larger springs and tunnels driven into a hillside and transmitted the water to their destinations using bored-log pipes.
In 1884, Charles B. Wright obtained a franchise for light and water systems and incorporated the Tacoma Light & Water Company. During the next five years, he built a system that drew water from the Galliher and Tacoma Eastern gulches, Tule and Spanaway lakes, and Clover Creek. Tacoma residents were generally dissatisfied with the quality of water and service provided by Tacoma Light & Water. The City Council began negotiating with Wright in 1890 to buy the water and light plants.
After much political wrangling, the City Council and Wright agreed to a price of $1.75 million and put the issue before the voters. The vote was 3,195 in favor of purchase and 1,956 against — 104 votes more than the three-fifths majority needed. On July 1, 1893, the City of Tacoma became the proud owner of a suspect water system and the meager beginnings of an electric utility.
Increasing population and poor water quality created a strong demand for additional water. The first expansion was the lease of additional water from an industrial well in South Tacoma for fire protection. After the initial lease in 1903, Tacoma Water began developing its own air lift wells: two or three in 1903 and 16 more (11 successful) in 1906-07.
In 1910 the City Council authorized construction of the Green River gravity supply system. This line, running 30 miles from the west slope of the Cascade Mountains to Tacoma, was completed May 8, 1913. Clearing the site for McMillin Reservoir (above) required horsepower as well as manpower.
The Green River gravity supply system was originally constructed with wood stave pipe, which was replaced with either concrete or steel pipe in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. The photo (left) was taken in September 1944.
Replacing the old air lift wells began in 1929 when Wells 1A through 5A were drilled in South Tacoma. Many additional wells have been added in the very productive South Tacoma groundwater aquifer, plus other wells both inside and outside the city.
Today Tacoma Water operates one of the finest water systems in the country, providing its customers high-quality water at competitive prices.