Kilbourn Reservoir Replacement Project - May 2000


The Kilbourn Reservoir has been an integral part of Milwaukee's water distribution system for over 125 years. The reservoir was built in 1873 on land donated to the City by founding father Byron Kilbourn. The structure is a seven-sided irregular shape that is 25 feet deep and, when full, holds 21 million gallons of water. The water was originally open to the air with about3 ½ acres of surface area. In 1979 a concrete roof was constructed over the reservoir to cover and protect the drinking water supply.

The purpose of the reservoir was, and still is, to store and distribute drinking water and to provide fire protection. Water from the reservoir flows as far south as the intersection of Oklahoma Avenue and 20th Street. It is Water Works' only in-ground distribution system reservoir.

The structural integrity of the reservoir has declined during its century of use. To minimize leakage and structural stress, the reservoir is only filled to half its original capacity. Replacement of the water storage component of the Kilbourn Reservoir is necessary to assure adequate storage and a continued supply of safe and reliable drinking water.

The reservoir replacement project will involve securing the site with fencing for the duration of construction, opening the side of the existing hill to allow construction equipment to enter, removing the concrete roof and supporting structures, and excavating the interior. A new concrete tank will be constructed inside the empty "bowl" of the reservoir. This tank will be 275' in diameter and will hold 15 million gallons of water when full. The new tank will be concealed completely within the existing hill. It is expected that the project will begin in fall of 2001 and be completed in spring of 2003. In conjunction with the reservoir replacement, the City hopes to coordinate improvement in the curvature of E. North Avenue at the southwest corner of the reservoir.

Milwaukee's Historical Preservation Commission named the Kilbourn Reservoir a Historical Site in 1999. Three structures of historical significance will be preserved: the Water Works pumping station, the comfort station in the park area north of the reservoir, and the gate house atop the reservoir. The garage building north of the pumping station, although not of historical significance, will also remain. The functions of the small police antenna atop the reservoir will be consolidated into the large red and white steel antenna, which will remain on the site.

The view of the City from the top of the reservoir is striking. In an effort to enhance the park area and to honor the original public works venture, landscaping of the area will be designed to return public access to the top of the hill. The roof of the buried tank itself, and an area around it, will be off limits.

Input is requested from the neighborhood on the following topics:

  • What features could be incorporated atop the viewing area?
  • Is a steep or gradual slope preferred for the hill on the north side of the reservoir?
  • What recreational facilities are desired for the area north of the reservoir?

This input will be considered and incorporated into the final design of the project, which has to be approved by both the Historical Preservation Commission and the Department of Natural Resources.

May 17, 2000