In 1834, Morris and Alonzo Cutler, John Manderville, and Henry Luther established a settlement that eventually grew to a village, then a town, and finally a city called Waukesha. All along the way, our founding fathers’ commitment to the environment has been reflected in the evolution of our wastewater collection and treatment systems.As the population grew, the practice of wandering off to a secluded place in the woods to “do one’s duty” gave way to the “privy”, or outhouse. Outhouses were in fairly widespread use well into the 20th century in rural areas, but by 1888, the forward-thinking trustees of the Village of Waukesha were adopting measures to control their use. And around 1890, Waukesha’s first wastewater treatment facility was constructed on the banks of the Fox River, site of the current treatment plant.
The original plant operated much like a large septic tank. Its primary function was to collect wastewater to allow heavier solids to settle out before the water entered the river.
In 1917, the plant was upgraded to increase capacity and improve efficiency. But Waukesha’s population doubled between 1910 and 1930, so in 1928, a new sewage treatment plant was constructed near the existing plant. The modernized facility added biology to the treatment processes through the use of activated sludge – microscopic organisms that remove contaminants. This plant was remarkable for its time, and through several expansions and the addition of a second plant in 1980, the technology behind the 1928 facility remained in place. Then, in the 1990s, driven by more population growth and increased industrial water usage, an additional facility to further treat the water was constructed. Waukesha’s Clean Water Plant is now matched by only a handful of other facilities in the state.
Today’s Clean Water Plant has the capacity for further expansion, if that becomes necessary. The operational philosophy is to treat the plant as a living, breathing organism that requires constant adaptation and evolution. Equipment is replaced and processes adjusted as needed to provide the longest useful life of any plant in our history. Waukesha has great expectations for the future. The Clean Water Plant will help make them possible.
of the West
There was a time when the residents of Waukesha didn’t have to go looking for water. It was bubbling up from the ground, right under their feet. Within the city limits, there were upwards of 60 natural springs, and in 1868, they became the stuff of legend.
That was the year Colonel Richard Dunbar, a railroad contractor from New York, announced to the world that he had been cured of diabetes by drinking 12 glasses of water in a single day from a Waukesha spring.
Shortly after, he bought the land around the spring, which he dubbed Bethesda, and began selling water to people outside the area. Soon, other springs were being named, bottled and marketed with tales of miraculous waters that could cure liver diseases, kidney diseases, rheumatism, yellow fever, depression, constipation, and countless other ailments.
Over the next four decades, Waukesha was known as Spring City, and the Saratoga of the West. The water attracted both the wealthy and the famous, including Sears & Roebuck founder Richard Sears and Abraham Lincoln’s widow, Mary Todd Lincoln.
By the early 20th Century, though, the fad had faded, and the flow of tourists stopped. But Waukesha was growing very quickly, and the springs could no longer meet the rapidly expanding city’s needs. Waukesha needed a new source of water. One was quickly found: Deep wells, some extending more than 2,000 feet down, that reached an extensive sandstone aquifer.
For many decades, this solution served the city’s needs, along with the needs of an ever-increasing number of other municipalities throughout southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. But a layer of shale prevents the aquifer from replenishing as quickly as needed, so the water level keeps going down. Which is why the one-time Saratoga of the West is looking east, toward Lake Michigan, for its water.