Overview of Milwaukee Water Works

Hundreds of thousands of Southeastern Wisconsin water utility clients will notice a 3% increase in their water bills starting the first of this month.

This increase roughly translates into an additional $1.41 per single-family home over three months. Water rates will undergo a second and final adjustment this fall.

The completion of the 2014 rate adjustment will increase a single-family residential water bill by an estimated total of $4.74.

In light of these recent and upcoming rate adjustments, it can be useful to explore the responsibilities, functions, and structure of the facilities that disburse water through 196 square miles of Southeastern Wisconsin.

Milwaukee Water Works is the public utility responsible for gathering, treating, and distributing water to sixteen communities within Milwaukee, Ozaukee, and Waukesha Counties.

Milwaukee Water Works provides water services to all accounts in the cities of Milwaukee, Franklin, and Waukesha. An estimated eight-hundred thousand people depend on this single facility to gather, treat, and transport clean and potable water to their bathroom faucets, kitchen sinks, and numerous other water-related fixtures.

All water that travels through Water Works facilities comes from Lake Michigan.

Before it reaches any of our taps and fixtures, the water undergoes treatment from one of two plants.

Communities in Southern Milwaukee County and surrounding areas receive their treated water from Howard Avenue Water Treatment Plant which is located at 725 W. Howard Ave. Communities in Northern Milwaukee County and surrounding areas receive their treated water from Linnwood Water Treatment Plant which is located at 3000 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr.

The Milwaukee Water Works is funded by the amount of water sold rather than tax dollars. According to the utility’s 2013 report, Milwaukee Water Works spent about $74.6 million dollars in operating expenses to dispense a daily average of 100 million gallons of Lake Michigan water.

Last year’s water demand generated over $81.1 million dollars in revenue. The Milwaukee Water Works began the 2014 fiscal year with a reported $6.4 million for operation, maintenance, and research.

The Linnwood and Howard plants use ozone as their primary disinfecting chemical.

This substance neutralizes noxious micro-organisms, removes undesirable contaminates, and improves water taste and scent.

Post ozone treatment, water undergoes coagulation, flocculation, and biologically active filtration to remove particles from the stream.

The treatment plants then use chlorine as a secondary disinfecting chemical.

Treatment concludes with the addition of phosphorous, flouride, and chloramine.

These three chemicals are reportedly used to prevent corrosion of lead pipes, distribute an anticavity agent, and finalize contaminate neutralization, respectively.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provide facility, operations, and quality regulation.

The Milwaukee Water Works was established in 1871 as the first continuously operating water utility in Wisconsin. It remains Wisconsin’s largest water utility.

Water sale volumes began a historic decline beginning in the mid- 1970s when the exodus of industrial manufacturers drastically reduced communal demand for water.

Over this past decade, water demand has taken more significant decreases as more account-holders install water-efficient fixtures within their units.

Milwaukee Water Works adjusts water rates as directed by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

Milwaukee Water Works policy is set by the Mayor and Common Council.

A post-treatment outbreak of Cryptosporidium in 1993 sparked major reforms in the facilities’ infrastructure and also forged a relationship between Milwaukee Water Works and the Milwaukee Health Department.

From 1993 to 2013, Milwaukee Water Works reported a $441 million investment in research and renovation. Filter beds at both plants were emptied, repainted, and replenished with filtration materials. The Howard plant completed a three year project in 1996 that extended an intake valve to avoid contaminated harbor waters.

Both plants replaced chlorine with ozone as a primary disinfectant in 1998.

The Milwaukee Water Works estimates that the average single-family Milwaukee home uses about 11 thousand gallons of water every three months.

The average commercial user account uses about 224 thousand gallons of water every three months. Industrial manufacturers use about 3.7 million gallons of water every three months.

Once water exits the infrastructure of Milwaukee Water Works, responsibility for this natural resource shifts from the utility to the users.

Aside from the cost of water purchased, the manufacture of water and water-related products are unregulated.

You can visit the Milwaukee Water Works website at milwaukee.gov/water.

The Milwaukee Water Works Customer Service is available Monday-Friday, 7:30a.m. – 5 p.m. at (414) 286- 2830.