The City of Spokane’s water system was born in 1884, when the budding city bought a small waterworks located on Havermale Island from several early civic minded businessmen. Located in the old Echo Mill it consisted of a few hundred feet of wooden water mains and pumps operated by hydraulic power.
By 1888 the city had leased a larger site near Post Street, had a power plant built and moved the Echo Mill pumps into a building with two additional new pumps. As the city increased in size, it was apparent a larger waterworks in an area where fresh clean water was plentiful was required and a search was underway.
Many ideas were introduced, including a series of gravity fed canals from Hayden, Spirit and Twin lakes. Building a dam east of town to impound clean water was another idea, and the present day site of Upriver dam was eventually selected. Opinion was divided and it took until 1894 to begin construction of Upriver Dam and Pumping Station. One year after construction started, a timber crib dam with a sluiceway that allowed log rafts to pass and a pumping station with a capacity of 10 million gallons a day were completed.
Eventually, the waterworks would have 13 hydraulic pumps, an improved dam, canal, steel flumes and draft tubes to allow hydraulic turbines to power the original pumps. It was during the construction of this facility that high quality ground water was first discovered. This would become important as the problem of contaminated drinking water arose once again.
In 1907, test wells were dug and exceptionally pure drinking water with a constant temperature of 48 degrees was discovered. At the time this was considered to be an inexhaustible supply. Three wells were dug, of which one is still present today, and the pumps were modified to pump from the wells instead of the river. Spokane now had some of the cleanest and highest quality drinking water in the region.
The city continued to grow and it was determined that a city this size should not be dependent on a single source of power or a single location for all its water needs. Beginning in 1910, electrically powered pumps were installed at Upriver Dam. This increased the pumping capacity to nearly 30 million gallons a day. Booster stations were constructed to reach the growing areas north and south of downtown. Some of these are still in use today in a modernized form.
By 1933, the timber crib dam and original pumps at Upriver were becoming damaged, worn and in need of replacement. Federal grant money was available and construction began on a new concrete dam and 3900 KW powerhouse. Improved in the 1980s and still in use today the Upriver Dam generates over 70 million kilowatts of electricity annually. The electricity is used to pump water to every part of the city and the excess power is sold to Avista. The City of Spokanes drinking water is some of the highest quality and lowest cost drinking water in the state.
Additional federal grants were used in 1937 and 1938 to construct new wells at Ray and Hartson to supply the south hill area and at Hoffman Avenue to supply the recently annexed Hilyard area and the North Hill. Parkwater Pumping Station was completed in 1950 to augment Upriver and ensure a constant supply of water if Upriver Pumping Station ever flooded or lost electrical power. It is still the single largest pumping station in the system. Wells were added again in the 1960s to increase the capacity of the system, including the Central Pumping Station, which has two hand dug wells over 270 feet deep.
2000 and Beyond
The system continues to grow and expand along with Spokane. Currently the water system has 7 well sites, 25 booster stations in 23 different pressure zones, over 1,000 miles of water mains, 32 active water storage facilities with more than 106 million gallons of storage. Our system provides reliable water to over 70,000 services and 7,000 fire hydrants and has a theoretical pumping capacity of over 280 million gallons a day. Daily water usage varies from 30 million gallons a day in the winter to a peak of 180 million gallons a day in the summer.
The Water department has grown from 35 employees in 1883 to 170 employees today. Our department provides the city with a full range of services from engineering and engineering support, hydroelectric operations and maintenance, construction services, valve repair and maintenance, water quality testing and monitoring, metering, leak detection and operations.