The Official Website of the City of Racine
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Lead in Drinking Water
Private Lead Service Replacement Program
Water Main Construction
101 Barker Street
Racine, WI 53402
Racine’s early pioneers obtained their drinking water from one or two nearby springs, but soon most of the water came from wells dug from 10 to 60 feet deep and about 5 feet in diameter. Water for fire fighting eventually became a critical problem, and in 1844 the first of many large brick or lined cisterns was dug at 4th and Main Streets. With increasing population and increasing numbers of rubbish piles, garbage piles, privies, horse stalls, and pigsties, the well waters in Racine became objectionably impure. In the 1860’s, health officials recognized the water as the cause of typhoid fever and other diseases in the city. Dr. Meachem became Racine’s first strong advocate for a municipal water supply. Deep artesian wells were drilled in 1875 and water mains were laid in the streets with service to individual homes.
In the year 1886, Grover Cleveland was president of the United States, the Wisconsin Territory was 50 years old, Sam Johnson pioneered the development of wooden floor waxes into a new industry, Mark Twain plied the Mississippi, and the privately owned Racine Water Company began dredging a trench and connecting 7,200 feet of 24 inch diameter, 72 feet long sections of pipe into Lake Michigan. At the same time, over a hundred men earning $1.50 a day, began digging the first of 34 miles of trenches within the city for the 6 to 24 inch diameter new cast and wrought iron mains. On February 1, 1887, the first Lake Michigan water flowed into the distribution system pumped by the new coal powered steam station at Reichert Court and Michigan Boulevard. The untreated lake water flowed under pressure to about one-third of the city’s 19,000 population. The ample supply of cold, fresh Lake Michigan water was advertised nationally and became a drawing card for industry.
The construction of the intake, the water mains, the river crossings, and the standpipe became major public attractions. As many as 5,000 people would line the beaches on Sunday to watch the diving and pipe implacements for the intake. The George Ellis Pump Station on Reichert Court was a high pressure system and provided the city good fire protection. Prior to use, all water mains were pressure tested at 150 psi. In 1887, Mayor Daniel Olin and Superintendent J.W. Lyon watched the successful test at Monument Square where water shot 70 feet into the air with 70 pounds pressure. That same year, a standpipe had been planned, and by February 1888 was erected 200 feet above lake level between 9th and 10th Streets. The steel standpipe was 25 feet in diameter, 80 feet high and stood on a concrete pedestal 55 feet high. It was described in the newspaper to be as perfect as “Solomon’s Temple”.
In June 1888, the first problem arose when a lawn sprinkling ban had to be imposed from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M. Interestingly, even today this problem remains throughout the nation.
By July 1889, the intake pipe was completed, over 300 fire hydrants were in service, fresh water was being used to flush the city sewer lines, and the dusty streets were being sprinkled daily. Professor Hindley of the Racine College pronounced the lake water to be clear and pure, and the Racine Daily Times praised the inexpensive water rates in the city. Colonel William Laing became the first permanent superintendent. In October of 1889, water losses were cut and muddy street conditions were corrected when automatic closing devices were installed in horse basins. Despite criticism by some who did not approve of paying for water, the series of mayors promoted, and were proud of, the water works. In 1894, 342 hydrants were in service, 110 flushing tanks for sewers were installed and 7 free drinking fountains were running 24 hours a day all year around.
In the very dry summer of 1900, the Water Works was credited for civic beautification evidenced by the colorful display of flowers throughout the city. That same year, Mayor Higgins introduced a proposition for the city to buy the Water Works. In 1904, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities endorsed legislation that would allow such municipal ownership of water works. By the year 1911, city ownership would become a serious, although still controversial consideration.
In the summer of 1906, water quality was questioned when a disease epidemic hit Kenosha and to a lesser extent Racine’s 34,000 population. The unfiltered waters from both systems were blamed for carrying germs. Professor Hindley, now of the Horlick Food Company, and W.G. Scott, chemist at the J. I. Case Company, both declared Racine’s water to be free of sewerage and germs although it did not contain some clay sediment. Unfortunately, Kenosha with its shorter intake line did not prove safe, and they issued “boil water” notices. The Racine aldermen became embroiled in a lot of water issues in 1906. Milwaukee was criticized for dumping its garbage directly into the lake and thus polluting Racine’s water source. Some aldermen thought the fire hydrants, and their fees, were unneeded. Others thought hydrant service should be expanded. Some wanted to decrease water rates, or to increase industries’ rates, and always the subject of whether the city should consider or could afford to buy the Water Works was emotionally addressed.
In 1907, Mayor Horlick appointed a committee to review the condition and value of the Water Works which now consisted of 62 miles of mains, 557 hydrants, a 12.5 million gallons per day (mgd) pumping station, a 330,000 gallon standpipe, and the 7,000 foot intake. Estimates varied the value of the system at between $400,000 and $1,000,000. In 1907, the Water Works business had became an important practical factor sanitarially, industrially, and financially to the citizens of Racine. The 1886 excitement, glamour, and awe of the city for the new giant system had given way to controversial acceptance and dependence upon Lake Michigan water.
Water quality was again questioned in 1908 after a bad storm brought cloudy water to consumers’ homes. There must have also been a taste and odor problem as the Water Company hired a “gang of men” to clean the “foul fish” from the standpipe bottom. However, analysis of the water again brought in the report of no germs but of some clay sediments. At the same time, Kenosha again faired badly in the testing and had to issue “boil water” orders. The Racine newspaper proudly reported that “Racine has the best water plant in the country and by far the purest and most wholesome water.”
Milwaukee, in 1909, had an epidemic of intestinal disease and its water was found to be impure. The Milwaukee health commissioner defensively declared that the lake could not be the source of disease germs and was not the cause of the “winter cholera”. For the first time, especially after storms, Racine’s water was also found to be occasionally impure and for the first time “boil water” notice was issued to the 38,000 Racine citizens.
In 1910, inspection found the system water pressure and fire protection capability to be in excellent condition.
In 1911, Racine experienced its only serious problem with “anchor ice” (needle ice) which frequently clogged the inlets at Kenosha, Waukegan, and many other cities. The problem, however, resolved itself before much could be done to mechanically remove it. Also, that year hypochlorination (chlorination) of the water to disinfect and kill germs was initiated. The practice worked, but caused a “strange taste” in the water which caused some complaints and expressions of fear about a socialist plot. In 1912, Superintendent McElroy reported the water had tested safe after a big storm, but further speculated that a lot of Saturday night baths were not taken because of the muddied waters.
In 1913, the National Board of Fire Underwriters gave a mixed review to the mayor on the 71 miles of distribution system, but found more compliments for the Water Works than they found for the city as a whole. In 1916, many water works ran low on hypochorite and threat of a typhoid fever epidemic was feared. The battlefields in Europe were consuming most of the disinfectant.
Mayor Theisen, in 1917, made the final bid to purchase the Water Works for the city, now with a population of 47,000 people. On May 1, 1919, under Mayor Armstrong, the purchase was completed for $1,225,000. Financing was accomplished by the sale of municipal bonds for the system which now included over 90 miles of water mains.
A Board of Water Commissioners consisting of three citizens elected by the Council, the Mayor and one Alderman appointed by the Mayor, was organized to conduct the utility business. The commission immediately initiated a number of actions. The first was to no longer give free water to churches and schools. The second was to contract the consulting engineering firm of Alvord, Burdick, and Howson of Chicago to insure economy and efficiency in the orderly development of the water works. Former Superintendent MeElroy was requested to remain in that post which he had so effectively filled. The third action was to request a water rate increase petitioned from the State Railway Commission.
The water utility continued to grow. By 1921 the plant could pump 36 mgd, the system had 107 miles of water mains, 957 hydrants and 22 full time employees. In June of 1922, Mayor Lunt and the city fathers paid their first official visit to the Water Works. In 1922, Milwaukee had badly polluted water due to the chlorination equipment failures and poor source water. Superintendent McElroy reported Racine’s equipment to be working nicely and water quality to be good. Early in 1914 the Health Department had started daily testing of the drinking water, and water quality was well documented. Industry, in 1924, made many major requests for more and larger water mains. Water treatment improved with the purchase of the Hubbard Street site and the completion in June 1925 of the first 2 million gallon coagulation basin. Construction began on the 12 million gallon per day filtration plant almost immediately. However, the Racine Yacht Club clubhouse stood on part of the property, interests were in conflict, and lawsuits followed. The problem was “resolved” when the council approved construction around and surrounding the clubhouse until the six years on the lease expired. In November 1926, three months before the opening of the new filtration plant, Superintendent McElroy, after 16 years of service, died of a heart attack. The Racine Daily Times stated that he left behind one of the most modern and efficient water utilities in the world. W.E. Pierce became the new superintendent and with chemist Dr. Eugene McCarthy, and a fine engineering staff, continued to develop the Racine Water Works as a pioneer and leader in water treatment and distribution on the Great Lakes. Superintendent Pierce actively led the utility for the next thirty years.
In 1928, a 2-1/3 million gallon storage reservoir was built, giving Racine one of the first modern water treatment plants in the world. In 1928, a new 36 inch intake and low lift pumping station were constructed; in 1930, a 2-3/4 million gallon standpipe was erected west of the city to balance pressures and afford fire-flow reserve; in 1933, the modern electrically operated pumping station was completed, the first all electric pumping plant on Lake Michigan. In 1936, the filtration plant was increased to twenty million gallons capacity with the addition of four 2 mgd filters; in 1939, a third settling basin was constructed and the old ones were enlarged, a river-crossing tunnel was constructed under Root River at Main Street, and a service building was built on the station site to house the construction department, the meter department, the storage garage and the machine shop, thus centralizing operations.
In 1956, the Board of Water Commissioners sold $3,500,000 of revenue bonds and initiated an extensive enlargement program consisting of a high 150,000 gallon elevated storage tank and two booster pumps to serve the high pressure area on the west side of the city. Two 1-1/2 million gallon elevated tanks were erected; one on Summit Avenue and the other on the south side at Coolidge Avenue; four new 5 million gallons a day rapid sand filters were built, thus doubling the filter plant capacity to 40 million gallons per day. Additional mixing and coagulation basins were built and two large wash water pumps were installed. The old 20 mgd low lift pump was replaced with a vertical type pump having its electric motor well above lake level so that the plant could operate should a break occur in the sub-lake-level low lift pumps area.
Provisions were made for bulk storage and use of liquid alum and for purchasing and using chlorine in ton cylinders thus saving in handling and in chemical costs. Approximately five miles of 24 inch and 30 inch concrete transmission mains were installed along with approximately three miles of cast iron mains with 12 inch to 16 inch diameters.
In 1970, a new 54 inch diameter intake pipe 4,500 feet in length was entrenched into Lake Michigan increasing the intake capacity from 35 to 110 million gallons per day.
A backwash retention basin was constructed and a sludge pumping system installed in 1977 to comply with federal discharge requirements. All filter backwash waters are now completely recycled and all the settling basin sludge is pumped into the sanitary system where it is treated by the Wastewater Plant.
A major improvement program began in 1978 which included a 2-1/2 mile installation of a 48 inch and 36 inch diameter water main from the plant towards the southwest side of the city. At the Hubbard Street plant a new 25 mgd high pressure pump and a 25 mgd low lift pump replaced smaller 7-1/2 mgd and 10 mgd pumps respectively. A new 1600 kW turbine generator replaced 4 smaller gasoline powered pumps, increasing the emergency pumping capacity to about 25 million gallons of water per day.
In 1981, the addition of another 2-1/2 miles of 30 inch distribution main and a mile of 24 inch ductile iron water main improved both the capacity and pressures in the distribution system. The erection of a 2 million gallon elevated tank near Durand Avenue and Green Bay Road and the addition of three four million gallon per day pumps with a new 500 kW electrical generator at the Perry Avenue booster station greatly improved and insured excellent water service to present and future westside customers.
The first two intake pipes were both cast iron intakes terminating in submerged timber cribs in water forty feet deep about three-fourths of a mile offshore opposite English Street. The original 1886 line was 24 inches and the second 1928 intake line was 36 inches in diameter. The newest 1970 intake is concrete and has a 54 inch diameter. A new and larger shore well was also constructed in 1970 and is used in conjunction with the old well. All three intakes are serviceable today. The shore wells are located at the foot of Hubbard Street and conduct the lake water through a concrete tunnel (8’3” diameter) to the suction well 25 feet in diameter and 45 feet deep located immediately south of the pumping station. From this suction well the water is drawn in by the low lift pumps and discharged to the mixing basins under the lawn in front of the filtration building.
There are four low lift pumps of 15, 15, 20, and 25 million gallons per day capacity which discharge into a common header (large pipe). The low lift discharge piping is so arranged and valved so that the raw water can be either passed through the old filter plant, the newer addition, or both.
There are four high lift pumps (10, 15, 20, and 25 million gallons per day capacity) which take their water from concrete suction channels beneath the floor and discharge into a common header (also under the floor). From the ends of the common header, the discharge water mains lead to the city through Venturi meters. This header is arranged similarly to the low lift header so that water may be directed to the distribution system at three different points. Pumps of various sizes are needed to enable the station to operate the equipment flexibly at highest efficiency, and to meet the variable demands for domestic consumption and for fire fighting in accordance with the Insurance Service Organization’s requirements.
The present electrical supply to the sub-station is through either of two underground cables. In case the electrical current fails, an emergency gasoline 100 kW generator provides house currents, and the large radial turbine 1600 kW generator provides power sufficient to operate the largest pumps.
On August 26, 1911, calcium hypochlorite, a chlorine producing compound was first added to the raw lake water to eliminate pathogenic bacteria. Typhoid deaths and related illness in the city dropped dramatically. Continuous chorination since that time has eliminated all water-borne diseases from the city.
Under laboratory control, the modern treatment plant began producing chemically flocculated, settled, and filtered water on February 27, 1927. Dr. Eugene McCarthy, chemist, pioneered and developed water treatment practices in Lake Michigan water until the time of his death in 1954. In August of 1930, anhydrous ammonia was injected into the water to prevent the formation of tastes from trace amounts of phenols and coal tar derivatives from the nearby gas-coke producing plant. By 1960, full water treatment in the enlarged physical facility included ammoniation, chlorination, alumflocculation, settling, activated carbon treatment for odors, lime treatment to control rusting properties of the water, and fluoridation under the supervision of the city health officer.
In June 1966, Mr. G.H. Ruston introduced the use of anthracite gravel over the silica sand filters. The use of this dual media filtration increased the operational length of filtering runs threefold. In 1967, potassium permanganate treatment to reduce natural odors in the water was successfully initiated.
In August 1975, organic anionic polymer flocculants were used as co-flocculants with the alum resulting in improved clarification and a reduction in the amount of aluminum sulfate (alum) needed. This improved the pH of the finished water, resulting in less corrosive water (less rust) in the city mains. Also, much smaller volumes of alum sludge were produced in the settling basins, and there was a reduction in treatment costs.
All chemicals are injected into the water prior to the mixing channels and the mixing chambers, which are equipped with a series of variable speed mixing paddles. From the mixing chambers, the water flows to the settling basins where snowflake-like floc settles out, carrying with it suspended matter (both organic and inorganic) from the lake. At the same time, the water is disinfected by the chlorine, and natural tastes and odors are reduced.
After meandering gently through the settling basins for 4 to 12 hours, the settled water flows to the sixteen rapid sand filters. The eight oldest filters each has a capacity of 1,500,000 gallons per day, four have a capacity of 2,000,000 gallons per day; and the newest four each has a capacity of filtering 5,000,000 gallons per day. The settled water passes downward through these filters to the collecting channels which flow into the 2-1/2 million gallon clear well storage under the filters. This clear well is directly connected by a 30 inch pipe to another 2-1/3 million gallon potable water storage tank near the lakeshore.
As the filtered water leaves the clear well and enters the suction channels of the high lift pump room, an additional amount of chlorine may be added as a final treatment to maintain the proper amount of residual chlorine in the finished water. Chlorine is needed to maintain water quality assurance throughout the distribution system.
When the sand filters become clogged by tiny floc and water debris, they are backwashed by admitting water to the underdrains from two 12,000 gallons-per-minute wash water pumps. All filters are equipped with surface wash devices. The backwash wastewater flows into the retention basin and then back into the intake tunnel where it mixes with the incoming raw lake water. This considerable volume of backwash water is thus conserved and recycled through the treatment system.
In 1981, the eight 1.5 million gallon per day filters were rebuilt one at a time from the bottom up. Leopold Tile Blocks now eliminate rusting and breakage problems at the filter bottoms and promise to give us at least another 50 years of good service. The tiled filter bottoms are covered by several layers of gravel, a deep layer of silica sand, and finally topped with 10 inches of anthracite gravel. This type of “rapid sand” filter works very well with Lake Michigan water.
Laboratory tests are conducted 24-hours a day as an operational function on both the water treatment process and on the finished product. Over 25,000 chlorine tests are run annually to maintain a safe and effective level of control. The water is monitored continually for turbidity, chlorine, and odors, and daily for a wide variety of other parameters. Over 2,500 bacterial samples are run each year to insure potability. Variances in quality levels are immediately corrected by the on-duty operator who adjusts treatment and flow rates appropriately. Supervisory personnel are available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week to help correct any in-plant emergencies or problems. The quality of Racine’s drinking water meets and far exceeds the standards of acceptable quality as expressed in the 1977 Safe Drinking Water Act.
Today the Racine Water Utility serves 120,000 consumers in the Racine Metropolitan Area. The Utility supplies potable water to one wholesale customer: the Caledonia Water Utility, which in turn delivers Racine water to the Village of Wind Point. Direct service is provided to consumers in the Villages of Sturtevant, Mt. Pleasant, Elmwood Park and North Bay. Direct Service includes delivery of pure drinking water, excellent fire protection, repairs and maintenance of the water system, and constant testing to assure potability. The current service area includes all of Racine County east of I-94. The towns of Yorkville and Raymond are eligible to receive Lake Michigan water if they request it.
High Lift Pumps (66 Million Gallons per day capacity)
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