History of Water Stewardship

For over 100 years, we’ve benefited from wise water planning.

Pure Water From Fire and Gold

  • Cedar River PipelineInstallation of Cedar River Pipeline, circa 1910.
  • Beacon ConstructionNew underground Beacon Hill Reservoir during construction.

The great Seattle fire of 1889 burned more than 100 acres of downtown, a failure of the city’s patchwork of private water systems. One month later, the citizens of Seattle overwhelmingly voted for a publicly owned system. Then, the Alaska gold rush of 1897 brought money into the city so that it could afford to build it. Here’s what our visionary leaders did so we could have some of the best water in the country today:

  • Chose a high-altitude source, which means gravity, instead of an expensive pumping system, brings us water.
  • Chose water that comes from a protected wilderness, which means it has fewer contaminants and we can treat our water with fewer chemicals.

Our region benefits from these decisions made a century ago, with clean, abundant water. Seattle Public Utilities is committed to continuing this legacy.

A Healthy Water System

Here’s what we’re doing to ensure both water quality and quantity, today and tomorrow:

  • Covering our reservoirs to improve drinking water quality and security, and provide public open space. This $145 million capital improvement program constructed five new underground reservoirs, which have been completed and are now back in service.
  • Removing unneeded roads in the watershed and improving the health of the forest so there is less runoff, making the water clearer and requiring less treatment.
  • Planning for climate change threats to our water, such as a decrease in snowfall.
  • Continuing to encourage more efficient water use. Since 1990, the population served by Seattle Public Utilities has grown by 17 percent while total water consumption has declined by 29 percent. We are using 39 percent less water per person than we did in 1990.

The Drinking Water Quality report, which the Environmental Protection Agency requires us to create and share with every customer, gives you information about how we’re doing regarding the water you drink every day. We’re pleased to report that our water is among the best in the nation, both in purity and taste.

Reliable Delivery to Your Tap

Seattle’s more than 1,800 miles of distribution water mains are aging. Some drinking water pipes were installed in the ground nearly 100 years ago and have reached the end of their service life. Other water pipes are located in corrosive soils, shortening their service life. Through its water main rehabilitation program, Seattle Public Utilities evaluates which pipes need to be proactively replaced.