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Page last updated on September 18, 2017 at 10:42 am

Welcome to City Hall and the Showers Common on this beautiful day.  We are here to celebrate something absolutely essential to our very survival - water.  Water is #2 on the list of things we humans need to survive (oxygen is #1). Living in America’s Midwest, we are blessed with an abundance of fresh water - something that is easy for us to take for granted.  Our supply of fresh water is the envy of much of the planet. But it wasn’t always that way - more in a moment.

But water itself is amazing.  It is truly the source of life.  Here are a few really cool facts you may not have known about water:

  • Almost 7,000 gallons of water are required to grow a day's food for a family of four (a lot, and some people are working on reducing that amount with better farms and approaches)

  • 1/3 of what the world spends on bottled water in one year could pay for projects providing water to everyone in need

  • Americans drink more than one billion glasses of tap water per day

  • For the cost of one 99 cent water bottle at a convenience store, you can buy tap water to refill a half-liter water bottle more than 1,500 times

  • If everyone in the US flushed the toilet one less time per day, we could save a lake full of water about one mile long, one mile wide and four feet deep

  • And lastly, I’m no scientist, but the experts tell us that since water sticks around -- water we have on earth today has been around a long, long time -- much of the water we drink once went through the kidneys of dinosaurs!

But did you also know that much of the the history of Bloomington is the history of our water supply? Living in Bloomington today many of us don’t give water a second thought. Present-day Bloomington has been fortunate not to have faced the water- related challenges that threatened our city’s early residents. From shortages, to pollution, to leaking water sources, and even disagreements resulting in heated City Council meetings and huge public demonstrations (that sounds like Bloomington, right?!) , Bloomington’s water history has been peppered with both challenges and controversies.

Our city was officially established in 1818, and early settlers just relied on streams and their own wells, rainwater and the like. By the middle of the 19th century, the public -- particularly businesses -- in the growing city began calling for a more reliable water supply.  City leaders tried several potential solutions, including multiple efforts to drill wells only to discover unuseable and polluted water sources. (I think one went down more than half a mile, but no good water)  

1894 saw the city’s first big effort at building a water system, by building a lake on the City’s then-southwest side of town. (By the way, the pipes back then were made of wood!  Check out the actual wood pipe dug up from the site of an old home in Bloomington in the display case inside City Hall!) The endeavor was somewhat successful, though the City quickly realized that the supply was inadequate. The City soon constructed a second, smaller lake nearby, and the two lakes soon were coined “Twin Lakes.” (sound familiar? Out on West Second Street) Droughts and other shortages in the early 20th century created yet more need.The City continued building smaller lakes, including Weimer Lake and Leonard Springs Lake. But even all of these lakes, thanks to our Karst topography which meant these reservoirs leaked consistently, and our tendency to experience drought conditions in July and August, meant our growing city constantly had water woes.

In fact, concern over water shortages was so serious that Indiana University built a supplementary reservoir of its own called (of course) University Lake in the early 1900s, and threatened to move the university’s campus if the city could not create a long-term solution to solve the water shortage problems. The business community echoed IU’s concerns with large Bloomington employers like Showers considering moving their companies out of town. Can you imagine what Bloomington would look like today if those early bedrock organizations had moved away?  

In 1924 several terrible fires swept through downtown destroying local businesses, and insurance rates for local residents spiked 40%. The lack of water was a crisis that boiled over that year, and finally 8,000 local residents filled the streets of the Square to demand a solution to the water problems. (there were only about 15,000 total residents at the time, so I guess that would be like 40,000 people showing up at a protest today -- that would get some attention!!)

A controversy bloomed as Mayor John Harris led proponents, who believed the answer to Bloomington’s water shortages lay in expanding the Leonard Springs, while opposition argued for a new dam in the Griffy Creek Valley. The Griffy Creek Valley had been identified by IU Geology Professor E.R. Cummings as a location for a more viable and reliable water source than existing supply locations that were built upon porous limestone. Can you guess how this turned out?  In the end, Griffy proponents successfully argued their position, and Lake Griffy started to supply Bloomington’s water in 1925, one year after construction to build the lake began.  

That proved to be a good choice, and Bloomington continued to grow. But within 20 years water had to be trucked in to supplement the Lake Griffy supply.  In the fall of 1946 the water shortage was so severe that Indiana University had to delay the start of the Fall semester.  

By 1952 the Chamber of Commerce complained that Bloomington simply could not continue to grow without access to more water.  So Mayor Thomas Lemon led the efforts to build another reservoir to support Lake Griffy. The city finished constructing Lake Lemon (originally known known as Bean Blossom Reservoir) in 1953, and water traveled from bigger Lake Lemon to Lake Griffy via flowing down the Bean Blossom Creek. It seemed that Bloomington’s century-long water supply challenges were easing.

But it wasn’t until Lake Monroe, our current drinking water source, was constructed in 1962 that Bloomington could really feel secure about water.  Built primarily as a flood control project by the Army Corps of Engineers, the vital water for Bloomington and the surrounding area is considered a secondary use for the lake along with recreation purposes. Happily, the lake was built to be large enough to provide water for many decades to both Bloomington and outlying areas.  

In 1964, Bloomington elected Mayor John Hooker. To this day, the Hooker administration is recognized for its progressive thinking and accomplishments, and instilling such forward-thinking processes and codes that are still in place today.  

One of Mayor Hooker’s administration’s most well-known accomplishments was his modernization of the City’s water system through a Comprehensive Master Water Plan created in 1964. Within this plan, Hooker created jurisdiction boundaries for service, instilled contracts with outlying water companies, regulated waste and sewage, added tens of thousands of mains and laterals to the City’s infrastructure, empowered women via a new policy that allowed women to work as plant operators, established and operated a central water service facility, and opened a new purification station and intake tower that could process 12 million gallons per day.

In an impressive show of foresight, the Hooker administration also created an environmental protection lab to monitor and maintain environmental controls of wastewater in streams, creeks, and other water sources throughout the area, making Bloomington’s environmental protection lab the only one like it in the state, and one of the first around the country.

It was fifty years ago this month that the City of Bloomington began to use Lake Monroe as a secondary drinking water source, in 1967, while still relying on Lake Griffy for drinking water. For fifty years the Lake Monroe water plant has been humming, 24/7, and in 1996, the City of Bloomington Utilities Department deactivated the Griffy plant and began to rely solely on Lake Monroe. The Monroe Water Treatment Plant currently pumps an average of 15 million gallons of water per day. This number has been as high as 23 million gallons per day in warmer months.

Now 50 years after the development of Lake Monroe and the Monroe Water Treatment Plant, we are grateful to our predecessors for their outright stubborn determination to provide an adequate water supply for Bloomington and the surrounding area no matter what challenges they faced. They did not give up, which made the beautiful, bountiful Bloomington we enjoy today possible.  With our gratitude comes the responsibility to be good stewards of our water supply.  To that end, the City of Bloomington Utilities Department works with The Nature Conservancy, Friends of Lake Monroe, Indiana University (various departments), Monroe County Government and other interested organizations to study how the lake is changing, how we can safeguard the Lake Monroe watershed, and how we can protect this precious resource far into the future.  

Please join me today in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Monroe Water Treatment Plant!