History of Dubuque's Drinking Water

Early Water Sources

Water is as necessary as the air we breathe. Without it our body would wither into parchment. In 1838, recognizing Dubuque’s need for a reliable water supply, the town Trustees ordained that:

"For the better supply of good and wholesome water and in order to guard against the destruction of property by fire, the President be hereby authorized in a contract and have constructed in a substantial manner, three public wells in such situation in the town as will most suit the public convenience."

Additional wells were dug and they were augmented by cisterns to serve as the city’s primary source of water for the next 30 years.

A new water source was found by accident in 1864 when lead miners attempting to lower the water level in a mine south of Kaufmann Avenue blasted a tunnel at the base of the hill and tapped a spring that gushed forth approximately 400,000 gallons of water per day. The spring continued to flow freely, and in 1870 a group of enterprising businessmen received City Council permission to form a water works corporation to take advantage of this ample supply of high quality water.
 The spring’s high elevation allowed water to be gravity fed to most of the city.

First Pumping Station

The first pumping station and a wooden storage tank were constructed in 1880, in response to demand for water service to the hill district. The pumping station was built on the corner of 8th and Bluff in the basement of the Lorimer Hotel. The system was developed further with the addition of an artesian well and construction of a pump station at the foot of 8th St. to lift water to the new 400,000 gallon standpipe constructed on Delhi St. in 1889. Remnants were found at the 8th Street location, during excavation work for Highway 61 in 1989.
 The first Eagle Point Plant pumping station was built in 1890. It was equipped with two-2,000,000 gallon per day (MGD) steam driven pumps and two 100-horsepower boilers. The primary sources of water for the plant were two 1,300 foot deep artesian wells.
 Despite these improvements, the water corporation was unable to meet the increasing demand for water that accompanied the city’s rapid growth in the 1890s. The owners were unwilling to invest in the critically needed expansion of the Eagle Point Plant and in 1896 sold the waterworks corporation to a second group of businessmen.

The new owners enlarged the building and added a 5 MGD Holly Steam Pump, a new generator and a 125-horsepower boiler. However, the plant was still not able to adequately meet the city’s growth and ever expanding demand for water.

City Assumes Ownership in 1900

Public dissatisfaction with the Waterworks Company culminated a passage of a public referendum approving city ownership of the waterworks. Following lengthy negotiations with the owners, the Dubuque Waterworks was sold to the city on June 1, 1900 for $545,000 and was renamed the Dubuque City Waterworks.
 The original board of trustees appointed to manage the City Waterworks also failed to undertake the needed improvements. Continued water supply problems and public dissatisfaction prompted the appointment of a new board in 1907. They authorized the development of a series of six-inch sand wells to augment the two artesian wells already in service. These sources were able to meet the increasing demand for water until 1913 when a large sand well, eight feet in diameter, was sunk to depth of 100 feet. It initially yielded water at a rate of 3 MGD but the rapid accumulation of fine sand necessitated its abandonment within five years.
Additional supplies were then obtained by developing more six-inch wells and drilling two 1,450 foot artesian wells. All of these wells have since been taken out of service.

West 3rd Reservoir

In 1914 the Waterworks Trustees had a large reservoir built at the 230 foot elevation of West 3rd St. to provide storage for the large quantities of water needed for emergency fire protection purposes. The 7.5 million gallon concrete reservoir was completed at a cost of $83,000 and is still in service today. A concrete cover was added in 1922 to eliminate problems with algae growth.

Eagle Point Treatment Plant

Construction of the present Eagle Point Treatment Plant began in 1922. Initial improvements included sand filters and large centrifugal pumps. From 1924 to 1946, four new deep wells were built and three more distribution pumps were installed. In the middle 1950s, a 12 MGD lime softening plant was built and four alluvial wells were drilled in a peninsula of the Mississippi River.

A major improvement project, completed in 1978 added sludge dewatering facilities and increased the treatment plant’s capacity to 20 MGD. When the City Waterworks became municipal property in 1900, the City acquired 44 miles of water mains, 340 fire hydrants, 340 gate valves and 1,854 water taps. In 2007, the City owned 312.94 miles of water main (4 to 30 inches in diameter), 2,780 fire hydrants, 5,569 control valves and over 21,300 service connections.

The demand for City water is ever increasing. To meet that demand the City of Dubuque Water Division continues to implement the training and technology that will supply the community’s water needs well into the 21st Century.