In the 1870’s, Wilmette residents obtained their water from individual shallow wells. During dry periods, water was sometimes transported by buckets from the lake. With no outside plumbing in place to carry away the sanitary waste, these shallow wells frequently became polluted with disease carrying organisms. By the mid-1890’s, residents began to look for ways to safeguard their water supply.
In 1894, the first water and sewer system was installed in Wilmette. To improve water quality, the Village entered into a contract with the neighboring City of Evanston to supply Lake Michigan water using the new distribution system.
By the mid 1920’s, however, severe low pressure problems had developed in the Evanston-Wilmette water system. Efforts to correct the problem, including the construction of a booster pumping station under the Sheridan Road bridge, were largely unsuccessful. After years of debate, a long term solution to these problems was approved by the voters in December of 1931: Wilmette should build its own water purification plant. C. P. Dubbs, the Village President at the time, was instrumental in making this project a reality. Originally constructed in 1933 at a cost of $520,000, the Wilmette Water Plant was able to purify and pump 6.0 million gallons per day (MGD) to its 4,500 residents. The original plant had two treatment basins, four filters, and low and high lift pumping facilities. An intake pipe was installed under the lake bed to insure the delivery of high quality raw water into the treatment processes.
In 1937, the Village of Glenview was added to the Wilmette water system as a customer and, in 1952, service to the Glenview Naval Air Base began. By 1956, the service population had expanded to 37,000. To supply this growing population base, a major $2.7 million water system expansion was completed in 1956 to bring the treatment capacity up to 15 MGD. The expansion included additional treatment basins, filters and low and high lift pumping improvements.
The hot dry summers of the early 1960’s and the unexpected population growth in Wilmette and Glenview led to the second major expansion of the water system in 1971. Additional mixing basins and filters were constructed, along with the roundhouse low lift pumping station and a second intake line to the lake. These new facilities were all part of a $4.7 million capital improvements program. The second expansion brought the plant capacity up to 27 MGD – a five-fold increase over the original 1933 facility capacity.
By the late 1990’s, Glenview’s planned development of the Glenview Naval Air Station property had begun. To supply the additional customers of the “Glen” with water, the Village of Wilmette initiated a third expansion of the water plant in 2002. This expansion, called the 8-MGD Improvements Project, included new chemical feed systems, new basin mixing equipment, a new low lift pump and associated piping. A unique aspect of this project was that it was accomplished without adding to the “footprint” of the plant, preserving valuable park land for the future. The 8 MGD Improvements Project, valued at $ 6.3 million, increased treatment capacity by over 70 percent to the current level of 44 MGD.