Mike Kosterman serves as water plant superintendent at the Racine Water Utility.
Water treatment operators Mitch Golla (left) and Patrick Ramseur review data inside the control room.
BY KATIE MATTESON
If you live in Racine, Mount Pleasant, Sturtevant, Elmwood Park, North Bay, Wind Point or parts of Caledonia and Somers, your water comes from the Racine Water Utility, located just south of North Beach.
The water you drink from the tap, use for bathing and watering your plants comes from Lake Michigan and the folks who manage the utility make sure it’s safe and pure.
In fact, it’s such good water that in 2011 the U.S. Conference of Mayors deemed it the best tasting city water in the country.
Mike Kosterman has served as water plant superintendent since January 1995. In fact, he’s the got the longest tenure of the 51 employees who work there.
He’s proud of the plant and happy to conduct tours for school groups, visitors from other cities looking for advice about their municipal water systems, corporate representatives and developers interested in new building or expansion or those interested in the utility’s history, processes and capabilities.
According to “100 Years of Service,” a publication produced by the Racine Water Works in 1986: “Racine’s early pioneers obtained their drinking water from one or two nearby springs, but soon most of the water came from wells dug from 10 to 60 feet deep and about 5 feet in diameter. Water for fire fighting eventually became a critical problem and in 1844 the first of many large brick or lined cisterns was dug at 4th and Main streets. With increasing population and increasing numbers of rubbish piles, garbage piles, privies, horse stalls, and pigsties, the well waters in Racine became objectionably impure. In the 1860s, health officials recognized the water as the cause of typhoid fever and other diseases in the city. Dr. [John] Meachem [Jr.] became Racine’s first strong advocate for a municipal water supply. Deep artesian wells were drilled in 1875 and water mains were laid in the streets with service to individual homes.”
The history of Racine Waterworks goes back to 1886, when construction began on water intakes from Lake Michigan, distribution mains and the Reichert court pumping station (now part of the Pugh Marina complex). The privately owned Racine Water Company started pumping untreated water from the lake on Feb. 1, 1887 via the 7,559-foot, 24-inch cast iron intake pipe to about one-third of the city’s 19,000 population.
It wasn’t until 1911 that the company started to disinfect the water.
In 1919, the city bought the waterworks for $1,225,000 with financing from the sale of municipal bonds. At that time, the city’s population had grown to 47,000 people and the system included 90 miles of water mains.
From Preservation Racine’s 40th Tour of Historic Places in 2015:
“In the early 1920s, industry made many major requests for more and larger water mains. Racine leaders responded to the need for more and purer water. By 1928 construction was completed on treatment basins, filter plant and storage reservoir. In 1933 the Utility completed work on the pump station, giving Racine one of the first modern water treatment plants in the world.
“The architecture of the current treatment plant is very similar to other treatments plants on the western shore of Lake Michigan. The Chicago-based engineering firm of Alvord, Burdick and Howe was responsible for the design, engineering and construction of a majority of the Lake Michigan water treatment plants. The buildings have served as an architectural jewel on the Racine lakefront since 1933. With plant expansions in the 1930s, 1950s, 1990s and early 2000s, maintaining architectural harmony with the original facilities has always been a design priority. By locating the plant north of the mouth of the Root River, the Utility was able to capture cleaner water from the lake very close to the popular North Beach bathing area. The attractive architecture including a reflecting pond and sundial are well known to Racine residents who may have grown up near the lake. The Utility staff takes great pride and invests significant resources in maintaining the appearance of the buildings and grounds.”
Kosterman explained that the water utility uses three distinct processes to insure the best water quality for its customers.
Four low lift pumps bring water from three lake intakes into the plant for the pretreatment phase. The water is chemically treated, mixed through a four-stage flocculation process and then flows to settling basins that remove about 90 percent of the solids.
The filtration phase consists of two separate steps. The pretreated water is first sent through sand filter beds and then filtered again with ultrafiltration membranes which remove nearly 100% of remaining particles.
The disinfection phase, the most important treatment, uses chlorine to destroy potential pathogens in the water. The potable water is distributed to the water utility’s 106,000 consumers.
Kosterman said the plant has plenty of capacity to satisfy the community’s water needs, as current production is far below the plant’s peak production years in the 1980s and 1990s, when local manufacturers like Belle City Foundry, J.I. Case, Western Printing, Jacobsen were some of the utility’s larger customers.
“We can easily meet the projected water demands for Foxconn and related development using our current system,” Kosterman said. “Our capacity is 50 million gallons per day (MGD) – expandable to 60 millions gallons per day and we currently, on average treat 17–18 MGD per day.”
For more information about the Racine Water Utility, call (262) 636-9181 or visit www.cityofracine.org/Water/