Green River water reaches Tacoma on July 12, 1913.

  • By Dave Wilma
  • Posted 1/19/2003
  • Essay 5076

On July 12, 1913, water from the Green River reaches customers in Tacoma at the rate of 42 million gallons a day. The headworks, pipeline, and receiving reservoir cost $2.25 million and took two years to construct.

The early years of the Tacoma Water Department focused on getting the most out of the dilapidated system purchased from the Tacoma Light and Water Co. in 1893. Creeks and flumes that supplied the city were exposed to contamination from humans and livestock and Tacomans complained of dirty, bad smelling, bad tasting water. Wells provided a good solution, but engineers and Mayor George P. Wright wanted to tap rivers and supply the city’s water by gravity.

The controversy became so contentious that Wright ordered the police chief to raid the offices of engineer Harnett Fuller and seize his plans. The question was put to voters in 1907. Just before the election, Wright tried to dramatize the situation by cutting off water to South Tacoma. Voters defeated the proposal to use the Green River.

In 1910, the Green River proposal went back to voters and they approved. The City secured a right-of-way for Pipeline No. 1 along the Northern Pacific Railroad (former Mayor Wright got the contract). The project took two years and involved 43 miles of wood and steel pipe across two rivers. Landowners fought the project in court.

On May 29, 1913, Public Utilities Commissioner Nicholas Lawson opened the valve into the “J” Street standpipe, but the pressure knocked the standpipe out of commission. Service was finally established in July and the city had a reliable and permanent water supply.


Dick Malloy and John S. Ott, The Tacoma Public Utilities Story (Tacoma: Tacoma Public Utilities, 1993), 24-26, 46-49.

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