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Guide to the Archives of the City of Seattle

Record Group 8200
Water Department

From 1854 until 1890, Seattle's water was provided by wells, springs and private water companies. A public waterworks was created by City Charter Amendment in 1875. However, Seattle was served primarily by small private water companies for the next decade and a half. In 1888, prompted by a tenfold population increase during the previous decade, Seattle's mayor and city council called for an election to decide if the city should own and operate its own water system.

Shortly before the election, the "Great Seattle Fire" of June 6, 1889, destroyed the entire 64-acre business district. A major contributor to the widespread destruction was the lack of water available from the patchwork of private water suppliers. The vote on establishing a municipally-owned water system was approved by a resounding 1,875 to 51 margin.

In 1890, a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed municipalities to issue bonds secured by future revenues. Shortly thereafter, Seattle issued $845,000 in bonds and purchased two private water companies -- the Spring Hill Water Company and the Union Water Company -- both of which pumped water from Lake Union and Lake Washington. In 1895, Seattle residents again voted to approve revenue bonds, this time to construct the Cedar River water system. Water first flowed from the Cedar River into Seattle's system on January 10, 1901. Water was diverted by a dam at Landsburg, and then was channeled into a newly-completed 28.57 mile pipeline. This pipeline carried water to the Volunteer Park and Lincoln reservoirs on Capitol Hill in Seattle, which were also built at the time. This new system had a capacity of 23.5 million gallons per day.

The system was administered by the Superintendent of Water under the auspices of the Board of Public Works. In 1905 the Department of Lighting and Water Works was created. Five years later, the Water Department became a separate entity. In 1909, a second pipeline was added, providing an additional 45 million gallon per day capacity to meet the water needs of a fast-growing Seattle. The next water supply source was not added until 1964, when the South Fork of the Tolt River began supplying north Seattle and the Eastside. In 1987, the first ground water source was added to the system when two wells in the Highline Well Field began operation. A third well was added in 1990.

In 1997 the Water Department was consolidated with the utilities of the Engineering Department to form Seattle Public Utilities.

Annual Reports

1.0 cubic foot

Annual financial and narrative report of department activities. Includes 1891, 1894-1968, 1975-1976, and 1978-1985.


Superintendent's Correspondence

9.8 cubic feet

Correspondence of the Superintendent of Water concerning all aspects of SWD activities. The bulk of the correspondence is in 54 letterpress volumes of outgoing letters spanning the years 1891-1958. Unbound correspondence is comprised of letters exchanged with other City departments, 1907-1957, and correspondence with other water districts, municipalities and government agencies, ca 1955-1995. Also included is correspondence with and about the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe regarding treaty right issues.

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Superintendent's Incoming Correspondence

0.2 cubic foot

Correspondence to L.B. Youngs regarding Seattle water system. Includes complaints, requests for service, invoices, and general correspondence.


Superintendent's Correspondence Index

2 volumes

Two alphabetical indexes to Superintendent's Correspondence letterpress books for years 1919-1923 and 1923-1948.


Central Files

9.4 cubic feet

Correspondence, memoranda, reports, studies, and agreements relating to Seattle Water Department activities, and projects. Includes materials on Bonneville Power Administration, Cedar River Watershed, reservoirs and dams, timber sales, and the United States Forest Service. Arranged by subject.

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Civil Service Correspondence

7 volumes

Correspondence and notices of personnel actions to and from the Civil Service Department.


Emergency Response Planning Records

0.2 cubic foot

Departmental policies and procedures for response to emergencies affecting the City and the water system. Outlines general plan and specific responses to earthquakes, contamination, chemical spills, power failures, communication failures, civil and employee disturbances, landslides, floods, and nuclear disaster.


Cedar River Watershed Cooperative Agreements

2.0 cubic feet

Agreements between SWD and government and corporate entities relating to cooperative resource use in the watershed. Agreements cover logging, fire protection, and road maintenance, among other topics. Files include signed agreements, correspondence, memoranda, and meeting minutes and notes.


Federal Contracts

0.4 cubic foot

Contracts, support documents, and correspondence between the Water Department and federal government. Includes agreements relating to geodetic surveys, military use of the Seattle Waterfront, federal use of department lands, and extension of water services to government installations.

Folder List

Historical Files

5.0 cubic feet

Correspondence, reports, leases, ordinances, specifications, articles and speeches, and financial records relating to the history of the Water Department and the City's water system. Records were compiled from several sources by Mary McWilliams for research on her book "Seattle Water Department History, 1854-1954." Included are her notes and several manuscript drafts.

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Ordinance Abstracts

1 volume

Brief abstracts of ordinances relating to Water and Lighting Departments. Includes ordinance number, date and summary. Covers ordinances 487 to 22011.



2.2 cubic feet

Newspaper and magazine clippings covering all aspects of Water Department activities. Arranged chronologically.


Photographic Negatives

4250 images

Photography of Water Department property and projects. Includes Cedar River Watershed development, pipeline construction and repair, reservoir and water tank maintenance, and supplies and equipment. Many negatives have associated prints.



1674 digital image files

This collection includes 15 years of Water Department images including water supply facilities, pipelines, maintenance, natural resource areas, and employees.


Departmental Publications

0.2 cubic foot

Newsletters and brochures published by the Water Department.

Folder List

Reports and Writings

0.2 cubic foot

Miscellaneous reports, writings and statistics regarding the Water Department’s history, water system, system safeguards, Cedar River watershed and finances. Also included is a list of lots to be sluiced for the 2nd avenue and Pine street regrade.

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Water Fund Ledger

1 volume

First ledger of City water system following the purchase of Spring Hill Water Company and creation of water fund. Includes tap number, street, house number, occupancy type, owner, payer, property and characteristics of property, monthly rate, and payments by month. This is essentially a register of taps, similar to Record Series 8202-01. Ledger cover reads "Water Ledger of the Spring Hill Water Company for 18 ."


Payrolls and Estimates of Expenses

3 volumes

Departmental payroll and general expenses. Payroll includes name, job title, pay rate, and amount paid. General expense categories include salaries, supplies, type of service, horses, and materials.


Boarding House Ledger of Groceries and Supplies

1 volume

Ledger of supplies for Cedar River Watershed cook and bunkhouses. Includes type and amount of supplies, cost, date, and supplier.


Blacksmith Shop Requisitions

1 volume

Requisition ledger for blacksmith shop supplies. Arranged alphabetically by item requisitioned . Includes item, date, requisition number, amount, and supplier.


General Ledger

2 volumes

Debit and credit balance sheet showing payments for services, supplies, equipment, and facility construction and maintenance. Includes date, amount paid, and purpose. Arranged chronologically by fund and/or type of service. One volume dates from 1889 to 1892 and the other from 1911 to 1917.


Personnel Cards

4.4 cubic feet

The Personnel Cards provide a summary of personnel information and actions for Water Department employees from approximately 1900 to 1973. The cards are divided chronologically into two subseries that that overlap slightly.

The first subseries includes employees who left department service between 1900-1930; the cards include employee name, employment classification, pay rate, work start date, and some notes on personnel actions related to pay increases and termination.

The second (and far larger) subseries includes more detailed personal and personnel information. These cards list employee name, address, phone number, birth date, birth place, marital status, veteran status, education, job title, job classification title, date of appointment, salary information, separation date, and other personnel actions such as promotions, salary increases, disciplinary actions, and leave of absence information. Some cards contain additional notes on an employee's family, employment prior to City service, and ratings of work quality.

The cards include regular full and part-time employees and provisional or temporary employees. There is some duplication between the Water Department Personnel Cards and the Personnel Department Personnel Cards (6010-05).


Register of Taps

1 volume

Record of water tap locations arranged alphabetically by street name. Includes house numbers (old and new); owner; type of occupancy; assessment based on size, occupants, water facilities, and livestock; and tap number and location.


Sanborn Insurance Maps

4 volumes

Fire insurance maps of Seattle. Volumes 1-2 were drawn in 1893 and are corrected to 1903; volumes 3-4 were drawn in 1905 and corrected to 1915.


Meter Reading Log Books

4 volumes

Meter reading log books arranged by meter number noting name or address, date, and meter reading. Four volumes cover four years: 1889, 1900, 1906 and 1907. The 1889, 1900 and 1906 volumes provide the name or building name and often the address as well, along with the meter number. The 1907 volume gives only the address with the meter number and appears to be for District 2.


Cedar River Water Supply System #2 Correspondence

1 volume

Correspondence of the assistant City Engineer relating to improvements, construction, and extension of the Seattle water supply system.


Water Supply Extension Estimates

1 volume

Estimates of costs for replacing pipe, construction of reservoirs, system repairs, and building aqueducts. Includes calculations, specifications, and drawings.


Miscellaneous Water Supply Correspondence

1 volume

Information requests, contracts for supplies, orders for supplies, notices of appointment, and general correspondence relating to the City's water system.


Water System Services Records

3 cubic feet

Records of the Director of Water System Services and division staff, 1993-1996, as well as Director’s records from the predecessor Operations Division. Records consist of project files, subject files, meeting materials, correspondence, email and reports concerning the water delivery system and its maintenance, as well as customer assistance. Topics include the Cedar River pipeline and Tolt River dam and pipeline. Also included are Water Department internal communications and documents concerning Department policies and employee training.

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Cedar River Watershed Condemnation Negatives

1263 negatives

Negative collection contains images relating to the condemnation of land in the Cedar River Watershed for pipeline right-of-ways and creation of a reservoir. Condemnation proceedings were carried out by the City of Seattle to rid the watershed of inhabitants and protect water quality.


Cedar River Watershed Maps

1 volume

Over 300 maps dating from the 1890s to the 1970s depicting land acquisition of property in the City's Cedar River Watershed and pipeline right of ways. Information on the maps typically includes former owners, roads, railroads, vegetation, and topography. Most maps show one section of land. The maps are arranged by township and ranges; there are two index maps in the collection. Many of the maps have been amended from a base map. All maps have been scanned and indexed; the digital images are available in the Archives' online maps index.

Included with the maps are two pages that list property acquisitions made by the City in Moncton and Cedar Falls from 1915-1917.

Finding Aid

Seattle Watershed and Pipeline Aerial Photographs

1.0 cubic foot
approx. 500 items

Efforts to use the Cedar River as a source of water for the City of Seattle were initiated in the 1890s by City Engineer R H Thomson. Water from the Cedar River Watershed was first delivered in 1901. Water was diverted by a dam at Landsburg, and then was channeled into a newly-completed 28.57-mile pipeline. This pipeline carried water to the Volunteer Park and Lincoln reservoirs on Capitol Hill in Seattle, which were also built at the time. In 1909, a second pipeline was built, and a third in 1923. In response to increased needs by a growing city, the Tolt River was explored as a source of water in the 1950s and the south fork of the Tolt began providing a new source of water supply to north Seattle and the east side beginning in 1964. In 1962, landowners signed the Cedar River Watershed Cooperative Agreement, which set up a process of land transfers that resulted in Seattle's complete ownership of its watershed lands. This led to further procedures for fire protection and public access control. In 1996, the USDA Forest Service ceded its watershed land to the City, which gave Seattle final and sole ownership of the entire watershed.

These aerial photographs are primarily of the Cedar River and Tolt Watersheds and pipeline, including routes through Seattle, Renton, and Tukwila. Dates included are: 1930, 1970, 1985, and 1989. Index maps are included. The aerials are in order by flight line, roll number, and photograph numbers.

Finding Aid

Tolt River Water Treatment Facility Visitors Register

1 volume

Name, address, and remarks of visitors to the Tolt River Water Treatment facility.


Northern Tier Pipeline Records

0.8 cubic foot

Records created and collected by Water Department staff regarding Northern Tier Pipeline Company’s application to build an oil pipeline to transport Alaskan crude oil from Port Angeles to Minnesota. The City of Seattle became an intervenor in the State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council proceedings because a proposed route of the Northern Tier pipeline crossed the Cedar River watershed and pipeline. Northern Tier dropped its application in 1983. Records include correspondence, memos, pleadings, clippings, evaluations, maps and Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council agendas, minutes and news releases..

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Fluoride Scrapbook

1 volume

The scrapbook contains primarily newspaper clippings dating from the years 1946-1963. Items include articles, opinion pieces, and letters to the editor dealing with the issue of fluoridation in Seattle and in other communities in the Northwest and across the country. The clippings are primarily from Seattle area papers (the Times, the Post-Intelligencer, and the North Central Outlook), but articles on fluoridation from the Christian Science Monitor and the Saturday Evening Post are also included. Brochures and flyers making the case for and against fluoridation also appear in the scrapbook.

Finding Aid

Water Quality Scrapbook

0.2 cubic foot

Photographs and news clippings documenting efforts by the Seattle Water Department to monitor and improve water quality. News clippings cover topics such as pollutants, waterborne disease, rust in pipes, and reservoir lids. Photographs document signage, equipment, reservoirs, and tanks.

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Conservation Office Records

0.6 cubic foot

Records of an office that promoted water conservation by residential customers and large consumers through public education, distribution of conservation kits and other means. Records include correspondence, brochures, conservation kit, and subject files..

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