In 1881 Henry Campbell built the first water works in Traverse City at the site of the present Open Space. He used hollowed-out pine logs as water pipes. The pine "pipes" were covered with tar and sawdust and bound with iron hoops to preserve and strengthen them. At one time there were approximately seven (7) miles of these pine “pipes” in Traverse City. By 1900, Campbell and Son's Waterworks Company could no longer meet the needs of its customers and was sold to the City of Traverse City. This was the beginning of the Traverse City Water Department. The pine “pipes” were gradually replaced with cast iron pipes over time to reduce water system leaks.
Studies in the early 1960s resulted in a recommendation that the raw water source be relocated and that a water filtration plant be constructed for the treatment and distribution of municipal drinking water. By 1966, a new Water Treatment Plant was built and began supplying much higher-quality water to City residents using the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay as the raw water source. The new water treatment system included a 36-inch intake line, the Low Service Pump Station to deliver raw water to the Water Treatment Plant where two rapid sand filters provided a total treatment capacity of 5 million gallons per day (MGD) along with a High Service Pump Station to deliver quality drinking water to the water distribution system.
In 1972 a clarifier and a third filter were added to the plant increasing the treatment capacity to 12 MGD. The plant was partially automated in 1988 by the addition of a PLC computer and an auto-dialer system to alert the operators of alarm conditions. The latest plant expansion (1992-93) included two flocculation basins, two additional filters, one new low service pump, and one new high service pump. To improve the reliability of the plant, a 750 kW standby power generator was also added. This increased the treatment plant capacity to 20 MGD. In 1995 the disinfection system was converted from gaseous chlorine to liquid sodium hypochlorite (bleach) for safety reasons. Zebra mussel control was also installed at that time to the raw water intake. In 2000, SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) was first installed to meet new EPA regulations. In 2006 the Wayne Hill Booster Station was completely reconstructed to more effectively serve the west side of Traverse City.
In 2007 a regional water study was conducted by an engineering consultant to project future short-term and long-term water demands for the City and surrounding townships. The study also presented recommendations for facility upgrades to meet future demands. In 2012, the chlorine feed system was replaced and the Huron Hills Booster Station was upgraded by replacing one pump and adding variable frequency drives (VFDs) to all three pumps. The large pneumatic pressure tank was replaced with two air bladder pressure tanks. In 2013, the fluoride feed system was entirely replaced. A water system reliability study was also conducted in 2013 by an engineering consultant to outline recommended capital improvement projects that increase the reliability of the water system. In 2014, the alum feed system is scheduled for replacement along with emergency repairs to filters 4 and 5 including full media replacement. Filters 1, 2, and 3 are also scheduled for full media replacement.