Adrian H2O – Over One Hundred Years
The birth of the Adrian Water works was not easy. The need for a central water supply for the growing community was recognized early. In 1873, The City Council received a report from Peter Hogan, Civil Engineer, on the possible methods of providing Adrian with an adequate water supply for an estimated 10,000 population in the distribution area and potential expansion to service 20,000 population.
Mr. Hogan was a remarkable engineer with great foresight. He recommended that Wolf Creek was the logical source of supply of water for the city, pointing out that it was largely spring fed and was unusually free from contaminates. At the same time he commented, “The River Raisin might be selected, but as this stream is already contaminated with sewage and other impurities, the evil effects of which are likely to be augmented in proportion to the growth of the city, this source should be avoided.” From this comment, we realize that pollution has been a problem from the early days.
Hogan’s report recommended that a pumping site be installed at the old red mill location where Wolf Creek and River Raisin meet. This site would be just east of Bent Oak Avenue across the street from the present water plant.
He also recommended construction of a reservoir 10 feet above ground level located at Dean and Bristol streets where the elevated tank is located by the fairgrounds today. He estimated that the reservoir would then be 62 feet above the ground level at Main and Maumee streets and that this would provide sufficient pressure in water mains to provide water by gravity to the first floors of most residences in the city and to the second floors of many of those residences.
The total estimated cost of this project, including the distribution system, was listed at $185,000. The report was received by the City Council, but no action was taken on it.
It was ten years later, on January 26, 1883, that the City signed a contract with the Holly Manufacturing Company to construct and maintain a water company. Before construction was started, the contract was transferred to the Adrian Michigan Water works. Construction of a water plant on Merrick Street, which was mostly a pumping station, was authorized on April 12, 1883.
Contrary to Hogan’s recommendation, the contract specified that water should be taken from wells and springs. The city, in turn, agreed to pay $10,000 per year fire hydrant rental fees as soon as the water system met the specifications of the contract.
On December 31, 1883, the company informed the city council that it was ready to make hydrant tests. After those tests, the city council said the water system did not meet the specifications and refused to make rental payments until the specifications regarding sufficient quantities of water were met.
This was the beginning of a long and bitter hassle between the city and subsequent owners of the water company over quality and quantity of water furnished within the City. There were constant complaints that residents wanted water and that the company was not able to install the services to them. At fires, it was alleged that there was not sufficient water available. Residents often complained that there was not even sufficient water to operate flush tanks.
In October, 1889, an “expert” hired by the City reported that the water works had found a new source of water and that it was of sufficient quantity for many years to come. The quality proved to be acceptable and the city council finally gave its approval to the water company. The records do not tell us what the new source was.
Five months later, in March, 1890, while fighting a fire, insufficient water again became a problem. City council exercised one of the provisions of the contract and refused to pay water rentals for six months.
Other difficulties became apparent during this period. The Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company had started suit in 1888 for non-payment of interest on the bonds it had purchased from the company. By 1890, this case had progressed through the courts, and on November 6, a judgment was rendered in favor the Trust Company.
It seems odd today that W .A. Underwood, a prominent Adrian attorney, represented the Water Company, the trust company, and C. H. Venner, a major stockholder of the water company during the litigations. Venner eventually assumed control of the company.
In 1894, the water company was in the hands of a court appointed receiver. During this period, when the new company (The Adrian Water Works Company) was organized, changes were made to improve the quantity and quality of the water.
Four years later in 1898, the Adrian Water Works Company went into receivership and was reorganized as the Adrian Water Company. With each reorganization, the name got shorter.
A pumping station was installed near the present site of Bixby Hospital to take water from Wolf Creek. A Filtration plant was built on South McKenzie Street where the present parking lot for Riverside Park is located. The company claimed 20.4 miles of pipe in the distribution system, 1,288 taps for service, and 147 hydrants.
Chlorine, the most widely used disinfectant in water supplies, was pioneered and tested by its inventor, W. M. Jewell, on Adrian Water in May of 1896. However, continuous chlorination of Adrian water did not begin until 1916.
The quality of the water still remained a bone of contention between the City Council and the company. Both engaged experts to make tests, including Professor Howard of the chemistry department at Adrian College. Regardless of the results of the tests, constant complaints were made that the water was not clear. Because of this, by 1904, the city still was only paying 50% of the agreed upon rentals to the water company.
In 1904, the City Council engaged the Riggs and Sherman Company, consulting engineers of Toledo, to prepare a report on the water company with a view toward purchasing the firm. The report stated that the main problems involved having the filtration plant too far from the source of the water, and not having a large impounding area on wolf creek for the intake. They recommended that an impounding area be constructed near Bent Oak Avenue, covering about 72 acres of the bottom land of Wolf Creek. This is now the site and approximate size of Lake Adrian, which was constructed in 1942. Duplicating Peter Hogan’s insight, the 1904 report recommended placement of a water treatment plant at that impoundment.
Thirty nine years later, this was accomplished in 1943, starting with a 1 ¼ MGD plant with subsequent additions in 1946, 1950, 1952, 1963, and 1973. The water plant now has a capacity of 10 MGD utilizing the most up to date treatment techniques.
In 1940, the total assets of the water facility were listed at $240,000. Those assets have grown until today they total $15,000,000. The Water department has remained self-supporting, paying all operating costs and bonded indebtedness from the revenue from the sale of water.
Since the purchase of the water system in 1920, the City has never subsidized the system in any amount. Also, at no time has money from the water system been diverted from providing anything but water service.
Since the city took over the operation of the water system, there have been 6 managers. Fred Smart served in this capacity from 1920 to 1938, Harold E. Smith served from 1938 to 1957, and Carl R. Nelson has served as assistant manager from 1947 to 1957 and a director of utilities until 1984, John C. Jenkins served from 1984 to 1994, Jan Hauser from 1994 to 1998, James S. Caldwell from 1999 to 2007 and Shane Horn from 2007 to present.
When the Adrian water company was purchased in 1920, a water board was appointed to operate the utility. The first members of that board were L. J. Lewis, W. H Barrett, W. H. Lutz, E. M. Jones, and C. P. Dunn. For 37 years, businessmen in the community served on the water board.
In 1957, with the change in the City Charter, the independent operation of the water department was abolished. Since 1957, the Adrian City Water Department has continued to be a financially separate operation managed by a utilities director reporting to the city administrator.