2019 Tacoma Water Highlights

Clean & Reliable

Providing our customers with clean, reliable water has been a priority for Tacoma Water since its inception in 1893. In 2019, the utility made way to not only manage its assets, prioritize safety, and keep a strong commitment to the community, but to plan for a new age within Tacoma Public Utilities.

Water Quality & Supply Efforts

Tacoma Water initiated a project to standardize the use of notices and work orders for corrective maintenance of its assets. Creating a new notification type (W6) standardizes corrective maintenance data collection and improves the utility’s asset management practices. Building a data history of asset problems, malfunctions, damages, and causes will improve root-cause analysis of unexpected failures. The utility plans to analyze the pilot test in early 2020. Upon success, the W6 notices will be available to implement utility-wide.

The utility also performed a thorough inspection of all well sites in early 2019 to determine the condition of all assets necessary to extract and treat groundwater. The results of the Wells Condition Assessment led to a study of the most economical options to ensure adequate groundwater is available when needed. The utility drafted a wells master plan to describe the groundwater supply system, status, and future goals. The plan allows the utility to predict future groundwater needs based on historic demand during drought conditions and modeling system expansion and demand. The result prioritized capital improvement options in order of highest return on investment.

Per the federal Lead and Copper Rule, Tacoma Water collects lead and copper samples from customer homes every three years. The basis for compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule is the 90th percentile value of the samples collected. In 2019, our 90th percentile was below detection levels for lead and copper. All of the 51 homes sampled were less than five parts per billion for lead, which is well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Action Level of 15 parts per billion. These results were the lowest that Tacoma Water has ever had. The utility attributes its low levels to recent treatment improvements and its lead gooseneck replacement program. The improvements position Tacoma Water to meet proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In August, the Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH) completed a sanitary survey to review, inspect, and assess the Green River source and treatment of Tacoma Water’s water system. The survey examined the Green River watershed, the utility’s treatment facilities (including the Green River Filtration Facility), pump stations, finished water storage, monitoring, reporting, management, and the operations of our facilities located on the Green River. The inspection found no significant issues.

The utility cleaned 249.1 miles of main in 2019, approximately 20% of the distribution system. It also flushed 2,016 dead-end mains.

Future Planning

Tacoma Water identified two large projects at the beginning of the year including, developing its 2020-2025 strategic plan and an enterprise-wide restructure. The utility will begin to implement the projects at the beginning of 2020.

The utility also chose to participate in a Utility Analysis and Improvement Methodology (UAIM) project with the Water Research Foundation and 17 other utilities across the U.S. and UK. This project is a group effort to develop best practices in the following areas: business process models, metrics, and decision support. At a high level, the teams identified their “as is” state and have been diligently working on the “to be” model and metrics that may tie in with that model.

Key Stats

Tacoma Water continued to execute at a high-level meeting developer demands to construct schools, short plats, shopping centers, restaurants, and residential homes and apartments. The workload production statistics match the Puget Sound region regarding economic development for new business and real estate.

  • 906 fixed fee orders – Created about 906 fixed fee orders, which was near the average from 2004-2008, and is triple the low of 297 in 2010.
  • Over 50% – Time and material orders increased over 50% over previous years.
  • 222 letters – Issued 222 water availability letters, beating the performance of past years.
  • 1,684 permits – Over 1,684 permits were commented on, which is well over the 1,370 permits commented on in 2018 and 30% more than 2017.
  • 6.4 miles – Replaced approximately 6.4 miles of distribution main.
  • 9.6 miles – Added almost 9.6 miles of new distribution main to the system from 24 private contracts.
  • 1,800 households – More than 1,800 households received customized water conservation kits, with each receiving only the items they requested for their home.

The system experienced 43 water main breaks at the time of writing this report. The utility estimates it will finish the year at 58 (4.6 breaks per 100 miles of pipe each year). The number is well below the industry recommended target of 15 breaks per 100 miles of pipe each year and reflects a highly reliable water system.

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Commitment to the Community

Tacoma Water executed the 2019 portion of the utility’s Lead Gooseneck Replacement Plan. The utility completed the work in a geographically equitable manner with relevant regular communication to staff and public. Throughout the year, the gooseneck project remained on schedule, resolving on average 34 replacements per month and reached the 2019 target of 405, totaling more than 1,000 resolved since the project began.

Tacoma Water and the City of Tacoma Department of Public Works continued developing the Pipeline Trail along Tacoma Water’s Pipeline 4 right-of-way. The utilities completed the section between the Tacoma Dome and E. 48th Street (Phase 2) in early 2019. A ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the Phase 2 trail took place June 8, 2019. Work on Phase 3 of the Pipeline Trail from E. 56th Street to E. 72nd Street began and should complete in early 2020.

A wildfire broke out in the Sawmill Creek sub-watershed within the Green River Watershed on September 4, 2017. The fire burned approximately 1,061 acres within the upper Sawmill, including roughly two acres of forestland owned by Tacoma Water. On June 11, 2019, Tacoma Water led a team to plant 620 conifer saplings on the site. The utility used the event as a team-building exercise while helping restore a portion of the watershed to protect water quality better.

Tacoma Water collaborated with Neighborhood and Community Services to improve response to homeless encampments located on utility property. While the groups continue to do their best to address this challenging issue, establishing a contract with Cascadia Clean-up provided a direct method for cleaning up encampments that often contain drug paraphernalia and biological waste. In March, the utility completed a clean-up of the Gallagher Gulch area below the Hood Street Reservoir. Over five days, a crew of five workers removed fourteen trailer loads of debris from the area, allowing Tacoma Water employees to continue doing their jobs in a safe environment.

In the 2nd annual TPU Academy, Tacoma Water instructors developed new learning activities for elementary school students, including a budget game, hands-on with meters and tools, and operating the water system; in addition to the GIS/mapping and water quality testing lessons from last year. The instructors put hours of heart into developing the curriculum, and it was well-received.


In 2019, Tacoma Water set up for the future. The utility identified two large projects at the beginning of the year, including developing its 2020- 2025 strategic plan and an enterprise-wide restructure. Tacoma Water initiated a project to standardize the use of notifications and work orders for corrective maintenance, continued its Lead Gooseneck Replacement program and planted over 600 trees in fire-ridden acreage that protects the Green River watershed. It also completed an inspection of all the well sites among many other projects to ensure clean, ample drinking water for customers well into the future.

Click here to view Tacoma Water’s full 2019 financial report.