In 2013, Tacoma Water marked a very important anniversary: 100 years of providing high-quality drinking water from the Green River.
In the late 1800s, Tacoma was establishing itself. The population was growing, but there was no dependable water supply, even though it was desperately needed for both drinking and fire safety. In 1884, people were relieved when Charles Wright incorporated the Tacoma Light & Water Company and began the search for water.
In 1893, the City of Tacoma became the new owner of the water utility, which, by that point, was literally falling apart. It had significant leaks – not surprising for a system build of wood. And there was still the problem of the lack of a dependable source. Many options were explored as the public suffered with discolored, lukewarm, earthy-tasting and foul-smelling water.
A well field in South Tacoma proved the first workable option, and a few wells were producing water by 1906. Meanwhile, the mayor orchestrated the purchase of water rights in two places in the Green River. It would prove a wise decision.
Still, political battles followed, with some preferring wells to the Green River. The issue went to a public vote, and the Green River proposition failed. But as the quality of the existing system continued to deteriorate, the issue went back to the voters. They had a change of heart, finally approving a Green River pipeline.
Work on the system took two full years, with hundreds of men doing the grueling work of laying 43 miles of pipe from Enumclaw to Tacoma. Finally, on July 12, 1913, the water valves in Tacoma were fully opened and Green River water – 42 million gallons per day – flowed into Tacoma, giving the city its permanent water supply.
At the time, it was the largest municipal project in the city’s 40-year history. Today, the gravity-based system remains the core of Tacoma’s water delivery method.