Evolution of Niagara Falls' public water supply

Drinking water for the City of Niagara Falls is supplied by the 35 mgd Michael C. O'Laughlin Municipal Water Plant, a state-of-the-art treatment facility completed in 1997. The first water suppliers in the late 1800s, however, were two separate entities: a village system served the northern area of Suspension Bridge while a private system served the southern area of Niagara Falls. Both supplied customers with untreated water, which largely accounted for cases of typhoid in the area. For this reason many people drank well water, which was also not disease-free. The water systems also had difficulty producing sufficient pressure for use in fire fighting.

During the 1890s new municipal equipment improved system pressure, while a new private filtration plant adjoining the Adams Generating Station helped decrease the instances of disease. Still, disagreements persisted between the city and the private company over issues of water supply. Typhoid outbreaks would still come and go and fueled public debate for corrective measures; at the turn of the century Niagara Falls had one of the highest typhoid rates in the country.

In 1908 the city decided to construct its own municipal system for the southern area, consisting of an intake 1500 ft offshore, a new filtration plant, a new pumping station, and its own distribution system. Legal attempts by the private supplier to stop the project failed, and in 1912 the new system began operation.

Incidences of disease reduced soon after, owing to one of the first full-scale applications of liquid chlorine for disinfection in the country. For a time, red fire hydrants on the city system were interspersed among the green hydrants of the private system throughout the city. The competition lasted until 1925, when the city purchased the private system for $400,000.

A growing demand for water from residents and industries required a renovation of the filtration plant and the construction of a second intake, plant and pumping station in 1953. The two plants produced water until concerns over age-related plant deterioration and subsurface chemical contamination led to the construction of the 1997 treatment facility.

Michael C. O'Laughlin Municipal Water Plant