HISTORY OF THE WATER PLANT AT WACO UNDER A WATER COMMISSION
Prior to 1878 Waco, Tex., then having a population of near 10,000, was without a water supply for domestic purposes or fire protection except of the most primitive character. In that year C. W. White obtained permission to use the streets for laying water mains and organized the Waco Water Company, which constructed a water works system, and in October, 1878, the city and the company entered into a twenty-year contract fixing the rates for private consumers, the city agreeing to pay $80 per hydrant for seventy hydrants for fire protection. The source of supply at that time was a large surface well, located six or seven blocks from the business part of the city. As the town grew the surface well proved inadequate, particularly in seasons of drought, and from time to time recourse was had to river water, the only other source, and frequently this was unfit for domestic use. As a result the people hailed with delight the bringing in of an artesian well on one of the high hills south of the city by Captain J. D. Bell. This well had a depth of something more than 1,800 feet, and from it gushed near a million gallons per day of soft, warm water, most delightful for bathing, and though slightly impregnated with minerals fine for drinking. It appeared that an inexhaustible water supply of a most satisfactory nature had been obtained, and all joined in praising and honoring Captain Bell for his remarkable enterprise and perseverance which gave this great boom to his home town. Captain Bell at once organized a company, with a capital of $250,000, the most of which was subscribed by himself and his friends and neighbors in Waco, to supply the long-felt want oi the people. The city gave the new company a franchise to lay mains in the streets in March, 1889, and rates for private consumers were fixed at about one-half of those provided for in the agreement with the Waco Water Company, the low rates being based on the assumption that the natural pressure of the artesian well would obviate the expense of pumping and the water would be supplied to consumers by gravity flow from a standpipe. The Bell Water Company immediately constructed an extensive system of water mains and a large standpipe on the high lull near the well. It was a gala day for Waco when the people assembled on the Public Square to witness the first exhibition given by the Fire Department of its power to fight the flames under the new system and behold a powerful stream of water shoot far above the highest buildings by the power of gravity, and Waco thought her water problem solved for all time to come. 1 he White water company, which had expended a large amount of money in the construction of its system had a high hill in the western part of the city, capped by a large earthen reservoir, and without delay began a deep well adjacent to the reservoir, and soon had it filled from a bold stream of artesian water. Then began a destructive competition and rivalry between the two plants. The supplying of water by modern methods to a city and its inhabitants is a natural monopoly, but under the conditions thus existing in Waco each company laid and continued to extend its mains on the same streets and without expense to the owner ran service pipes into abutting private premises, and each met the cut rates of the other, and did many other things which weakened and impaired the efficiency of both companies. Meantime a number of wells were sunk by others in the lower parts of the city to the artesian strata. These weakened the flow of the wells on the hills, so the Bell company standpipe would not fill from the natural pressure and the Waco company well ceased to flow into the reservoir, and both companies drilled more wells on lower ground and resorted to the old and reliable pump. Finally the numerous wells so weakened the artesian pressure that only a few, and those at the lowest points, flowed at all; and the supply had to be augmented by expensive air pressure, and that proved inadequate. The result was that both companies had to resort to surface wells and Brazos River water. The plant of the old Waco company was bought at receivers sale by its bondholders. Captain Bell made a gallant fight but to no purpose. After his death his company was reorganized, and finally made terms with and bought out the other plant. The Bell company had increased its supply by a system of fifty tubular wells on the east side of the river, where it established a pumping station. After two or three years’ operation of both plants, under conditions unsatisfactory to the people and the company, negotiations began for the purchase of the entire system by the city. To that end each party selected one arbitrator and the two a third to place an estimate on the value of the plant. They fixed the value at $411,000. Their action was approved and the trade consummated whereby Waco became owner of both the old water plants. The purchase money was paid by sale of bonds, amounting to $422,000. By charter amendment control and management of the water department was vested in a Board of five Water Commissioners, who serve without pay and are elected biennially—two at one annual election and three at the next—so that the people could if desired make partial changes in the personnel of the Board at eacli annual election. The Board was empowered and required to appoint for a term of one year, at salaries fixed by them, a Secretary and Superintendent of Water Works, to be bonded officials of the city, and to contract for the services of all other employees necessary for the operation of the plant and adjust their compensation. The charter required water rights to be set high enough to bring revenue sufficient in amount to cover operating expenses, maintenance and extensions and the sinking fund and interest on the bonds issued for the purchase ot the plant.
First Board of Fire Commissioners.
The first Board was appointed in February, 1904, by Mayor Allan D. Sanford and confirmed by the City Council, two of whom were to hold office until the next election and the other three until the one following. They consisted of an Editor, and an Express Company Agent, a packing house manager, a building contractor and a lawyer, all of whom were without experience in the management of water works. The Board entered on their duties shortly after appointment, atid the first problem presented was the selection of Secretary and Superintendent. The Board concluded that with their limited knowledge of the business, to put in a new set of employees, unfamiliar with the operation of the plant, would invite failure from the start. So the former Secretary of the Bell Water Company was appointed first Superintendent and its former bookkeeper first Secretary, and the entire corps of employees retained. The Board next addressed itself to the water rates. A casual inspection of the old rates and the patronage demonstrated that they would not produce the revenues required to meet the expenditures necessary to comply with the obligations imposed on the Water Department by its organic law, and it was evident that the former rates must be increased at least fifty per cent. Naturally this was an unpopular move, but the advance was made, and acquiesced in with fairly good grace. Besides the new rates were moderate as compared with those of other Texas cities. There were no meters except for a very few of the largest consumers, and flat rates prevailed almost entirely. The rules required prompt payment in advance by the quarter, and were rigidly and impartially enforced so there was no loss of revenue. The gross receipts for the first year under municipal ownership was $94,761.42, accounted for as follows: Operating expenses, $12,682.42; maintenance, $7,312.62; sinking fund and interest, $33,996.66; improvements, $17,646.36; cash balance, $13,192.87. It is needless to say the outcome was gratifying to the Board. The cash balance, though considerable, was needed tor additional improvements. When the plant was taken over there were two pump stations, one serving water from the artesian wells and the other from the tubular wells on the east side of the river. Both station houses were built of cheap material on the most economical plan, and were really nothing but shacks. These were to be replaced by substantial and commodious structures of brick at a cost of nearly $20,000. New pumps, air compressors and boilers had to he purchased to supplement or take the place of others, at an expense of more than $20,000. The city was growing and demand for water increasing, and what between these and protracted droughts draining the water -from the surface wells, interspersed with great downpours of rain swelling the Brazos far beyond the confines of its banks and engulfing in its current the entire tubular system, pump station and all, there was plenty of^ use for all the funds over and above the fixed’ charges against the plant. In 1910 the flood damage to the tubular system from the overflow of the Brazos was $29,975, and from the same cause the flood damage in 1913 was $15,749. These were record years, but there were others. To meet the demand for more water more tubular wells were bored until they numbered one hundred and twenty-five. These wells proved inadequate and unsatisfactory, and large wells, sixteen feet across, were sunk in the river bed and water pumped from them. They appeared inexhaustible at first, but by degrees, waned away and proved a disappointment. During these times of trial the Board had the good fortune to have the services of the late Sam J. Quay, as Superintendent. Without such a man the Department would never have emerged from its difficulties as it has. He was resourceful and untiring. The water plant was the apple of his eye. When it was in serious trouble he gave himself up untiringly and sleeplessly to mending the evil. If the people of Waco have the right to he proud of their city-owned water plant they are indebted to S. J. Quay far more than to any other man or set of men for its success. Constructed as the water system was by two companies, naturally it required the work of years to realign and readjust the mains and connections to makq a well regulated and efficient plant, and to this work Mr. Quay gave intelligent and assiduous attention and finally succeeded in making the two plants into one harmonious whole. About four years ago it became evident that some radical change in the source of our water supply must be made, as by use of compressed air only about one million to one one million and a quarter gallons per day of artesian water was available, and not more than four millions from the tubular wells, and having then comparatively few meters this amount of water was insufficient to supply the wants of the city, which was growing more rapidly than ever in population.
New Pumping Station and Filtration Plant.
In view of this the Board took steps to secure expert advice as to the best means to reach the desired end. Numerous engineers and contracting engineers interviewed the Board and made suggestions as to the best course to pursue. Finally they had the good fortune to secure the services of Mr. Worenskold, of Dallas, a consulting engineer, and after a thorough and painstaking investigation, supplemented by the experience of an overflow of the river, which threatened to destroy and did seriously impair the tubular wells and pump station while he had the matter under consideration, he gave it as his opinion that the tubular wells must ultimately be abandoned, and the only sure way to obtain an adequate supply of pure water for the city was to construct a pumping station and filtration plant on the bluff above the river on the west side, of sufficient capacity to furnish five million gallons per day of filtered water. The Board agreed with him and employed him to make a survey of the situation and advise what was necessary to be done to make the entire water plant commensurate with the needs of the city, and an estimate of the cost. This he did, and his estimate was that the construction of the filter plant, pump station, pumps and other equipment, and the extension of mains to round out the system, would cost $400,000. Promptly the citizens of Waco with remarkable unanimity voted the bonds to raise the money required. A site of twelve acres was purchased on the west side of the river, where the main portion of the city is located, about twelve blocks from the business district on a bluff overlooking the river. Here the new filter plant and pump station were erected. The filter plant was built by the Pittsburg Filter Company, at a cost of $85,000, with a daily capacity of five million gallons. It is so constructed that the capacity can be doubled by the addition of another unit without impairing the efficiency of the present plant. The turbidity of the Brazos at certain stages is of such unusual character and density as to impede filtration to such an extent that the plant cannot maintain its rated capacity. This is the only defect in the plant, and as yet no means have been found to overcome it. It has been minimized to a great extent by the increase in the artesian supply, as presently shown, and by laying a main securely anchored across the river, through which water is pumped from the tubular wells on the east side. A pumping station, in connection with the filter plant, was also erected on the new site, in which were installed two five million-gallon pumps, two 150 horse-power boilers and one 250 horse-power boiler. A clear water reservoir of one million gallons capacity was constructed adjoining the pump station, and a standpipe of eight hundred thousand gallons capacity, located on the highest hill overlooking the city, about one and three-quarter miles west from the station, and connected therewith by a twenty-four-inch main. Besides this, all water mains were readjusted and harmonized under a systematic and scientific plan for future development and extensions as the growth of the city may require. The whole was done under the skillful supervision of Mr. Werenskold, and the effective, and I may say, affectionate management, of our lamented Superintendent, Sam J. Quay. The cost of the entire improvement was $398,000, coming well within the original estimate of Mr. Werenskold. The supply of artesian water has always been a great factor with the Water Department. Until the construction of the new plant it was only available from the station at First and Webster streets where artesian water only is pumped. This station was installed by the Bell Water Company and has been in constant operation since the city purchased the plant. Until recently it was supplied by three dowing wells; two some distance away were made available by a gravity line and the third, known as the Jumbo, is located right at the station. It is the largest well ever drilled in Waco, having a diameter of 12 inches at the top. These wells, by natural flow, furnish daily about seven hundred and fifty thousand gallons. About three years ago some enterprising citizens with curiosity to peer deeper into the bowels of the earth around Waco to ascertain what of value might be found there asked for one of the unused wells on Bells Hill for that purpose. Satisfactory arrangements were made and a drill was put to work at the bottom of the well. After penetrating some three hundred and fifty feet a new flow was struck, equalling that of the well when first brought in by Captain Bell. After going some further the drill was inextricably caught and the enterprise abandoned. The well reverted to the city and has been connected up with the artesian pumping station ; and it, with another well, bored close by the station, furnish another seven hundred and fifty thousand gallons, so that this station now supplies about one and one-half million gallons of water per day. About one-half of the water which flows into the clear well at the filter plant is from the artesian source. Soon after the plant was completed two wells were drilled to the lower artesian depth and connected with the clear well, and later on it was discovered that two of the old wells on the east side taken over with the plant had a good flow, and these were connected up with the clear well by means of an eight-inch pipe laid across the river. These four wells furnish something like one million gallons daily. The tubular wells station in East Waco has not been abandoned. It is kept in running order at no great expense, and used in emergencies when the river water becomes unusually difcult to filter on account of extreme turbidity. A pipe has been laid across the river connecting it with the settling basin at the filter plant.
Installation of Meters.
About five years ago the Board began the installation of meters. No attempt was made to do it all at once, but it has progressed with steady tread and now 4,200 consumers are on meters and 5,000 on flat rates. There was much opposition to meters at first. But the more meters were put in the more the meter rate was reduced, because of the decrease in the quantity of water required to supply the demand, and that meant reduction in operating and maintenance expenses. Now applications are frequent for meters by those who have not been reached. Since so much of the city has been metered the reduction in water consumption is remarkable. On the average the reduction is at least one-third. When the entire city is metered the Board hopes to make another substantial reduction in the meter rates.
Cost of Improvements.
After the $400,000 bond issue for money to build the filter plant and other improvements, the Charter of the city was amended so as to relieve the Water Department from paying the annual sinking fund on the water works bonds, so now the city pays the 2½ per cent, sinking fund; but the Water Department continues to pay the annual 5 per cent, interest on the bonds, together with the other obligations imposed at its birth. Since the city has owned the plant improvements to the amount of $350,357.30 have been made out of the earnings. From the same source, during the same time, sinking fund and interest on the bonds have been paid, amounting to $431,811.44. Never but once in the history of the Department has the city been called on for help, and that was after the disastrous flood of 1910, which came near sweeping away the East Waco plant and required $29,975 to repair the damage and swelled improvements that year $49,289.18. At that time the Water Department borrowed from the city out of uninvested sinking funds on hand $50,000, and solemly pledged the quarterly water rates as security for the loan, and paid it back with 6 per cent per annum interest in quarterly instalments of $5,000 each. The members of the Board receive no compensation, and beyond the stated meetings, which are held with rigid regularity bi-monthly, give little attention to the details of the business. By their frequent meetings, at which the Secretary and Superintendent are always in attendance, they keep in close touch with the workings of the plant, and no important move is made without their advice and consent. These two officials understand that the responsibility of the Department is on their shoulders and they must see that it is managed with success. The members of the Board have thus not found the duties of the office irksome and are pleased to serve their city in the management of what they deem is a successfully operated municipal water plant.