1880s and Prior
The world is in chaos! There is no reliable source of water for the inhabitants of the Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield metropolitan area. Some entrepreneurs have begun, for significant profit, the selling of water from springs of questionable quality. Downtown Waterville has a reservoir by City Hall that is filled by just such springs under the auspices of the Waterville Aqueduct Company. Bottled spring water merchants, many providing a better, more sanitary product albeit at a higher cost than the Aqueduct Company, are also thriving in the tri-city area. Fairfield has some community systems serving groups of houses from bubbling springs off Western Avenue. Many houses have cisterns collecting rainwater runoff from their roofs for laundering of clothes. Underground cisterns are filled and available for fire-fighting purposes. The water transmission pipes are wooden and buried at a shallow depth that allows them to be dug and cut into when water is needed for fires. No reliable, reasonably priced water supply is available to most residents of the area.
The Waterville Water Company forms with the express purpose of supplying water to city hydrants and offering water to city residents. The Maine Water Company succeeds the Waterville Water Company in the early 1890s. The sole purpose of the enterprise is to make money. Neither public health nor philanthropy is a consideration. mid-1890s Young local attorney Harvey Doane Eaton ponders at great length how a pure water supply could be brought to the Waterville area. On a warm summer night, as he walks back to Waterville from a visit to Oakland, he sees Waterville, Fairfield, Winslow, and Benton in the valley ahead. The lights of the four communities form the pattern that sparks a vision. The vision consists of a “water district” formed to provide a safe, reliable water supply linking several municipalities. The concept of a “district” is a revolutionary idea. Laws limit the debts of a municipality to 5 percent of valuation. This limit effectively stops municipalities from developing their own water supplies, which inherently come with expensive infrastructure development costs. Nothing in the law, however, prohibits a group of communities from banding together in a “quasi-municipality” to supply water to all.
March 17, 1899
After a great deal of work by Eaton and several influential friends, the Kennebec Water District is incorporated on this date. The original district consists of only Waterville and Fairfield Village, but Winslow and Benton are also served. KWD is the first water district formed in the country and its format sets the standard for future districts in other disciplines such as sewer or sanitary districts and school districts.The first superintendent is Albert S. Hall and the Board of Trustees numbers five. April 1, 1899 Waterville votes to join the District.
April 3, 1899
The Fairfield Village Corporation votes to join the District.
April 28, 1899
Condemnation proceedings begin against the Maine Water Company. The Kennebec Water District continues to exist as an entity, but the Maine Water Company still operates the works as condemnation proceedings move forward.
A typhoid epidemic hits the Waterville area. Its origin is the water the Maine Water Company is supplying from its Messalonskee Stream source. The stream, as it winds from Snow Pond to the Kennebec River receives directly the sewer flows from much of the Town of Oakland and some of Waterville.
Kennebec Water District trustees begin a search for a new, pure water source. China Lake is chosen for several reasons.
Construction begins on several fronts including a new transmission pipeline from China Lake.
May 9, 1904
Condemnation proceedings are complete. The appraised cost of the works is $503,475.37. Legal and other expenses bring the total cost of the District to approximately $557,000. The Kennebec Water District completely takes over the assets of Maine Water Company.
Water begins to flow from China Lake. Water purity is exceptional.
View the First Kennebec Water District Annual Report here.
Another typhoid epidemic hits the Waterville area. Residents suspect Kennebec Water District water. The trustees hire Harvard professor George Whipple to investigate. After an extensive investigation by Mr. Whipple, the source of the problem is traced to tainted milk.
Kennebec Water District begins a major property acquisition program along the shoreline of China Lake. Almost 10 miles of shoreline is purchased with the goal to provide protection for water quality. The cost of the purchases is just over $57,000. The anticipated cost of a filtration plant necessary to treat the water if the land was not purchased is $100,000 – $200,000 with additional annual operating costs. This shoreline property purchase for watershed protection is an unprecedented maneuver at the time (and is completed only with extensive soul-searching by the Board of Trustees because of the cost), but has since been copied by many other districts.
An extensive tree planting program begins on open spaces around China Lake. Water quality protection is the motivation.
Central Maine Power Company (CMP) builds two hydrogeneration stations upstream from KWD’s pumping station. Even though KWD no longer uses the Messalonskee Stream water as its source, it does use water power provided by the stream to drive two pumps capable of delivering 5 million gallons per day.Alvin B. Thompson replaces Albert S. Hall as Superintendent.
CMP begins interrupting streams flows to KWD’s pumps by releasing water to its advantage. KWD files suit for damages. KWD can no longer count on adequate stream flows to run its pumps in a manner that will allow proper service to its customers.
KWD wins its suit against CMP and gains a certain amount of annual “free power” to run its pumps in exchange for allowing CMP to generate from KWD’s dam. KWD changes to electrical motors to power its pumps and uses a gas engine for backup.
J. Elliott “Spec” Hale replaces Alvin Thompson as Superintendent.
For the first time since water was provided from China Lake in 1905, poor quality water is being distributed. The cause for the poor quality is an extended wind storm that has stirred up bottom sediments in the lake. The problem ceases in just a couple days.
Several major capital improvement projects are completed including a new section of transmission main, the construction of a 40 million gallon open reservoir, and the building of a new pump station in Vassalboro.
Scott O. Holt is named Superintendent. J. Elliott Hale retires.
Sherman K. Smith is named Superintendent, replacing Scott O. Holt.
Winslow joins the corporate body of KWD and is given full voting rights on the Board of Trustees. The Board expands to seven members.
The Town of Fairfield is officially incorporated into the Kennebec Water District.
Another wave of major capital improvements including the redesign of the main pump station, the addition of a high-lift pumping system with an associated storage tank, and the addition of major trunk lines to better serve Keyes Fibre, KWD’s largest user. The installation of a redundant transmission main parallel to the existing transmission main and other projects change KWD’s look and water distribution capabilities.
Two critical major events occur. First, the startup of federally funded sewerage treatment plants causes industries to evaluate their water use patterns and look for ways to conserve. With additional sewerage costs, the industries are now being billed twice for water – as its enters the mill and as its leaves. The financial impact of these costs has shocked many industries with heavy water use patterns into engineering conservation measures to reduce water use. The Keyes Fibre Company uses approximately one half of all water delivered by KWD. As conservation measures by Keyes increase, KWD’s sales drop substantially. Many system improvements, such as large trunk lines and new pumping stations that were constructed to handle the system demands that were projected to occur are essentially being wasted as demands never get close to projections. The other critical event is the beginning of the deterioration of water quality in China Lake. The formerly pristine quality of the lake takes a dramatic swing toward eutrophication in the mid-to-late 1970s. The event is so impressive among industry people and environmentalists that the term “China Lake Syndrome” is coined as a description. KWD faces many water quality complaints as a result of its source water decline. An evaluation of the need for a water treatment facility is again brought to the forefront.
Superintendent Sherman K. Smith retires. Theodore W. Rohman is named acting Superintendent.
KWD changes from a Superintendent to a General Manager led organizational structure. Robert W. Palmer, Jr. is hired as the first General Manager. Operations & Maintenance and Clerical workers unionize.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) amendments of 1986 are adopted by Congress. The regulations require all surface water suppliers to filter their water unless the supply can meet certain stringent water quality parameters. KWD’s water does not. KWD begins several engineering studies. First is a qualitative analysis to determine the actual water quality of China Lake and the future expected water quality of the lake with and without remedial measures. Next is a search for alternative sources that would provide the quantity and quality of water necessary at an economically feasible cost. Included in this search is an evaluation of other area surface waters and the test drilling of a series of wells to look for an adequate underground supply. 1990-1991 The first stages of compliance with the SDWA are completed. The open 40 million gallon reservoir is replaced by two pre-stressed concrete storage tanks designed to hold 6 million gallons each. August 1993 KWD’s state-of-the-art water treatment facility is placed online. The plant has a design capacity of twelve million gallons per day. It is the largest water filtration facility in the state.
KWD begins supplying the water needs of the Town of Oakland through Maine Consumers Water Oakland Division.
Late Summer 1995
KWD faces a ratepayer revolution as it attempts to implement the final stage of the stepped rate increases necessary to fund the improvements required by the SDWA. Intervenors in the rate proceedings, led by the Chinet Company (formerly Keyes Fibre) engage in a lengthy and costly legal battle before the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) to reduce the proposed rates and to censure KWD for imprudent management practices relating to the design and construction of the facilities required by the SDWA. 1996 The Maine Public Utilities Commission grants KWD’s rate increase at slightly less than the 8.85% originally requested. The MPUC finds KWD was not negligent nor imprudent in the design and construction processes related to the SDWA improvements.Water filtration facility personnel unionize.
January 1, 1997
KWD’s first elected board of trustees takes office. As a result of legislation passed in the previous legislative session, KWD’s trustees are now to be elected rather than appointed by municipal officials.
WD’s trustees and staff enter a catalyst process with the goal to develop a vision for the future of the District that will provide a shared direction.
KWD’s 100 year anniversary!!
Superintendent Jeffrey D. LaCasse is promoted to General Manager/Superintendent replacing General Manager Robert W. Palmer, Jr. who retired early in the year.
The Kennebec Water District implements a 30 percent across-the-board rate increase. The increase is fueled by a substantial decrease in industrial revenue resulting from decreased use from some industries and the closure of Kimberly-Clark. The increase is designed to redistribute the revenue need among the remaining ratepayers of the District. Expense levels have been maintained at a relatively stable level since 1995.
The District jointly commissions a study with the Augusta Water District to determine the technical and economic feasibility of an interconnection between the Districts. The Districts have faced almost identical dilemmas in recent years. Both were required to build costly treatment facilities to meet the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and both later faced a substantial loss of industrial revenue, dropping demand far below the design capacity of its treatment facility. The study evaluated whether it would be possible to see an overall cost savings for the District by constructing an interconnection between the Kennebec Water District’s water treatment plant and the Augusta Water District’s distribution system and using the treated China Lake water as the source for both. The Augusta Water District treatment facility would be shut down, saving substantial annual operating costs. The plan was put on hold when the study determined that, because of some unexpected technical considerations, it was not economically feasible to begin the project at this time.
As a result of favorable interest rates, the District refinances its 1993 bond. The refinancing will save the District $683,875 over the life of the bond.
The 100 year anniversary of using China Lake as the District’s source of supply.
Due to significant increases in expenses (with major contributors being substantial increases in the price of fuel oil, electricity, transportation, construction material including pipe and pavement, and health insurance) and a stable flow of revenue, the District files for an increase in rates. The effective date for the increase is scheduled to be January 1, 2007.