The history of Nashville’s drinking water

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An aerial view of Nashville in 1940 featuring the Eighth Avenue Reservoir — the reservoir was later covered in 1974 to keep out any outside debris. | Photo via Tennessee State Library and Archives

Table of Contents

How well do you know your local H2O? To continue our Drink Up Week, we’re diving into the history of Nashville’s water system.

🚰 History

Over the past two centuries, new water infrastructure has been built to supply this vital resource to our growing city. In fact, the first settlers of Nashville chose the Fort Nashborough site because of the availability of pure water from a nearby spring. 40 years later, the town purchased the rights to a pump system that delivered water from the Fort Nashborough spring to the public square, establishing the city’s first water system.

🚰 Timeline

  • 1833 | After a fire destroyed the first system, engineer Albert Stein was hired to design + build the city’s second water system. The water was pumped from the river into a reservoir on Rolling Mill Hill.
  • 1877 | In response to cholera outbreaks in the 1860-70s, the city embarked on its first attempt to clean the drinking water (the water system was not chemically treated until the early 20th century).
  • 1889 | The George Reyer Pumping Station on Omohundro Drive + the Eighth Avenue Reservoir are completed to handle the increased demand for water. The Eighth Avenue Reservoir has a capacity of 50 million gallons and is Nashville’s largest water reservoir.
  • 1912 | The Eighth Avenue Reservoir’s east wall breaks open just after midnight on Nov. 5, releasing 25 million gallons of water and destroying many homes near the fairgrounds.
  • 1953 | Nashville becomes the second city in Tennessee following Milan to fluoridate drinking water.
  • 1978 | The K.R. Harrington Water Treatment Plant opens.
  • 2016 | Metro Water Services transitions from chlorine to bleach for drinking water disinfection.

🚰 By the numbers

  • Nashville has more than 3,000 miles of water mains (up from 2,750 ft in 1931) that service 215,000+ customers.
  • Metro Water Services has two water treatment plants — K.R. Harrington and Omohundro — that collectively treat ~180 million gallons of water per day.
  • Metro Water Services oversees 37 reservoirs, 55 pumping stations, and 21,000+ fire hydrants.

🚰 Resources

Curious about drinking water quality in Nashville? Go beyond the kitchen sink + learn more about the city’s water system with the following resources:

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