In the late 1800s, Seattle pumped its water supply from Lake Washington and Lake Union. The water flowed through hollow wooden log pipes into the city. After Seattle’s great fire, it was apparent that this water source did not meet the growing population’s needs. Exploration found two abundant rivers nearby: the Cedar and the Tolt.
Both the Cedar and Tolt rivers originate from snow melt in the Cascade Mountains, east of Seattle. Both rivers are long time salmon habitats. Native peoples depended on these rivers for fishing and for drinking water, as we all do now.
In the early 1900’s, Seattle began piping water from the Cedar River watershed. The river water flowed to Seattle via gravity while filters removed any sticks and leaves. With the lumber boom, decades of tree cutting sent debris into the river and polluted the water. In the 1960s, the City of Seattle purchased the Cedar River watershed so that it could be protected and conserved. As a result, the cutting of nearby forests halted and the water supply is cleaner.
Water from the Tolt River became a supplement to Seattle’s water supply in the 1960’s. Seattle now owns the water rights to much of the Tolt River watershed.
Safety and Conservation
Seattle’s water is clean and naturally filtered. However, fluoride, chlorine, and other water quality treatments are provided at the Cedar and Tolt facilities to ensure water safety. Further, several water conservation awareness programs help Seattle residents become aware of where their water comes from and how to use less. For example, turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth, and collect rain water in barrels for later use in outdoor watering.
For more information and pictures about Seattle’s water supply origins, see this History Link.org.
In addition, the City of Seattle’s website has lots of great information on our water and where it comes from.
Also, take time to visit the Cedar River Watershed Education Center to learn more about Seattle’s water history and over 9000 years of human habitat in our area.