History of the Green Bay Water Utility

The Green Bay Water Utility, along with its predecessor (a privately owned company), has been in business over 120 years.  The private commercial venture was begun in 1886 by a syndicate of New Englanders and operated under franchises granted by both of the then-existing Green Bay and Fort Howard communities.  In 1894, the group of Connecticut promoters who established the original company sold out to local investors after having operated the system for about eight years.  The original private company began operations with three wells, 12 miles of water mains, a pump house with reservoirs and a 12 inch river-crossing main to the west side of the Fox River to supply the community of Fort Howard.  When the company sold eight years later to local investors, it had grown to include 29 miles of mains.

Early records were not required, but a 1909 Railroad Commission report lists the locally owned system as having 43.1 miles of main and 4,002 customers, mostly residential.  Industrial and commercial users at this early date generally had their own wells.

In 1910, talk began about a municipal owned department, and a referendum overwhelmingly carried, only to have the efforts die there.  The price of $500,000 was rejected by the City Council due to the fact that the amount being considered at that time represented a "staggering" sum. World War I came and went, and the issue resurfaced in 1920.  A new referendum was passed, and the system was purchased on November 12, 1920 by the City of Green Bay for $975,000.

Since inception in 1886, Green Bay had boasted about its pure and abundant water, brought up from deep artesian wells.  But growth in population and commercial and industrial activities began to show a strain on the supply.  In 1930, the average daily per capita consumption was between 40 and 50 gallons; by 1957, this had mushroomed to nearly 200 gallons.  In addition, the water level, which in 1935 was a mere 95 feet below ground surface, had dropped to 350 feet.  The natural reservoir of water could not be replenished as fast as city needs were growing.

By 1952, it was evident that some new source had to be found.  Deep, pure, dark blue Lake Michigan was nearby and an attractive source.  After meeting with some opposition, work on the $10 million facility began in 1956.  In August of 1957, construction was completed, and on August 10, 1957, the "new" water streamed and bubbled to customers.  In November of 1964, the City of Green Bay annexed the Town of Preble, which had 3,516 customers.  By 1970, there were 23,000 customers, and to date, there are 36,200.

The water is still being drawn from Lake Michigan, 27 miles to the east of Green Bay, just north of the City of Kewaunee.  The maximum pumping capacity during that first year was approximately 13 million gallons per day (MGD).  Today, thanks to system upgrades, the maximum pumping capacity has grown to approximately 42 MGD.

The Utility's retail service area currently is confined to the City's boundaries. Wholesale service to the Village of Ashwaubenon began in June, 2006, to the Town of Scott in October, 2006 and to the Village of Hobart in June, 2011. Construction and maintenance of all Utility facilities and improvements are the responsibility of the Utility.  The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) regulates the Utility's operations pursuant to Chapter 196 of the Wisconsin State Statutes.

The Utility's retail service area, which is the City of Green Bay, is the third most populous city in Wisconsin, and has continued to experience substantial growth in population and tax base. The City has become one of the State's predominant manufacturing areas, with particular emphasis on non-durable goods industries. 

The City has a current estimated population of 104,500. Since 1960, through annexation and consolidation, the City of Green Bay has grown physically from 15.5 square miles to a present area covering approximately 46.1 square miles. The City's population density of approximately 2,267 persons per square mile indicates there is ample land for future growth and development.