More Than 100 Years of Clean, Reliable Water

Since 1913, the Green River has been the City of Tacoma’s primary water supply. Though it is easy to take our current clean water for granted, how we got to this point is a story of perseverance, smart planning and fortunate access to a large, healthy watershed.

Tacoma’s first commercial water delivery system started in 1873 and involved selling spring water by the barrel directly to residents on Pacific Avenue. Within a decade, population growth demanded much more ambitious solutions if the City of Destiny was to thrive.

The first leap forward came in 1884 when Charles Wright, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad and prominent Tacoma booster, incorporated the Tacoma Water and Light Company and began searching for a permanent water supply. When Wright sold the utility to the City in 1893, it still had no reliable supply and the water it delivered was discolored and lukewarm, tasted bad and smelled worse.

Some relief came in 1906 when a few wells in South Tacoma began producing higher quality water, but even this wellfield could not handle the demands of our growing city. Around this time, the mayor of Tacoma started a campaign to purchase water rights for the Green River. It would prove a wise and far-reaching decision.

Still, it was not an easy sell. Years passed, political battles ensued and two public votes were needed before Tacomans decided to approve the purchase of the water rights and construction of a pipeline to bring the water to the city.

Construction of the system took two years, as hundreds of workers laid 43 miles of pipe across difficult terrain from Enumclaw to Tacoma. Finally, on July 12, 1913, the water valves in Tacoma were fully opened and clean Green River water flowed into the city at a rate of 42 million gallons per day. At last, we had our permanent water supply.

Since that time, we have made many system improvements including completing a second pipeline in 2006 and building the Green River Filtration Facility in 2015. However, the gravity-based system remains the principle water delivery method to meet the needs of Tacoma.