FAQs - Additional Information

Visit the tap water website of the American Water Works Association

Internal Link American Legion Star at Kilbourn Reservoir Park
Internal Link Cold water from the tap seems warm
Internal Link Cost of Milwaukee drinking water
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Hydrants - Opening fire hydrants is illegal and dangerous

 Internal Link Water Metering in Milwaukee
Internal Link History of the Milwaukee Water Works
Internal Link The North Point Tower Tour the tower 9/20/14 Doors Open
Internal Link Pryor Avenue Well
Internal Link Storm Water Management Charge
Internal Link Water mains
Internal Link Water pressure
Internal Link Water softeners
Internal Link Quagga mussels


Water temperature

Lake Michigan is the source of drinking water for the Milwaukee Water Works, so the temperature of Milwaukee's drinking water depends largely on the temperature of the lake. Warm lake water temperatures usually occur from August to mid-September, and, at times, into October. The median, or average, temperature of Milwaukee's drinking water in 2013 was 49.6 degrees F (8.1 degrees C). The range in temperature was 29.7 - 71.1 degrees F (-1.3 - 21.7 degrees C.

The temperature of drinking water also depends on the length of the service lateral or water service to the house or building. The longer the lateral the warmer the water is likely to become. Please do not waste water while waiting for the tap to run cold. To have extra cold water available at all times, keep a clean container filled with water in the refrigerator.

If the cold water seems warm and you have a mixing faucet that mixes both hot and cold water at the same tap, the faucet may need maintenance. Periodically replace the cartridge in the faucet. Normal wear will sometimes allow more hot water than cold water to be added to the mix. Consult the owner's manual or call a plumber.

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Cost of Milwaukee drinking water

Milwaukee water is a great value -- 2.5 gallons cost one cent. As measured by your water meter, 100 cubic feet (748 gallons) cost $1.73. (rates effective 2013) Here's how to calculate the cost per gallon: 748 gallons cost $1.73. Divide $1.73 by 748 = $0.00231. Round up to $0.002 (two-tenths of one cent per gallon) Five gallons x 0.002 = $0.01 (one cent)

The Milwaukee Water Works measures and bills for water use in 100 cubic feet, or Ccf. To convert your water use to gallons, multiply the water amount in Ccf by 748. The cost of 100 cubic feet of water, or 748 gallons, is $1.73 for Milwaukee customers.

The typical person in Milwaukee uses 10 Ccf of water per quarter. 

Water rates are determined by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin based on cost of service, so all customers, including those tax-exempt, are charged fairly for the water they use.

Find more information about water and Municipal Services Charges in the Municipal Services Bill brochure La Factura de Servicios Municipales de Milwaukee

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Fire hydrants

The Milwaukee Water Works owns and maintains 19,869 hydrants in Milwaukee, Greenfield, St. Francis, and Hales Corners. The hydrants are part of the utility's distribution system of over 1,900 miles of underground pipe, all connected to the water treatment plants.

The water utility recycles old hydrants. We do not sell them for landscape decoration or other uses.


There are 13 different styles of hydrants, all requiring bi-annual inspection and maintenance. Hydrant Service Workers inspect 10,000 hydrants each year. Each hydrant is labled with a bar code with a number that corresponds to the hydrant location and a hydrant database. During inspection, Hydrant Service Workers use handheld computers to scan the bar code on the hydrant and enter inspection data into the specific hydrant record. Each hydrant is operated fully during the inspection process and flushed thoroughly to remove any stagnant water. Moving parts are inspected for wear. Any defects are reported for repair. The Milwaukee Water Works conducts annual flushing of approximately 1,000 hydrants that are located at the end of a dead end water main. This flushing helps ensure that fresh water is moved through the main.

In addition, while flushing each hydrant during inspection, the water is sampled using a portable turbidimeter to ensure the Milwaukee Water Works' water quality standards are met or exceeded throughout the distribution system. Any hydrant defects noted from the inspection are reported for repairs. When a hydrant is found to be inoperable, the Milwaukee Water Works promptly notifies the Fire Department of the out-of-service status and again when the hydrant repair is complete.

Hydrant identification rings

A plastic ring color system provides further identification of hydrants.
  Yellow - The hydrant was taken out of service due to a problem. The appropriate Fire Department is notified. Water Distribution repair crews are promptly assigned to conduct necessary repairs.
  White - For Fire Department use only. These hydrants may hold water in the standpipe after operation. The Milwaukee Water Works will check these hydrants each fall to ensure they are dry before freezing weather. With water in the standpipe the hydrant would freeze and be inoperable during the cold winter months. If the Fire Department uses one of these hydrants it notifies the Milwaukee Water Works to check it and clear it of any standing water.
  Lime Green - The hydrant is in use by someone with a permit using a backflow prevention device.
  Green - Private hydrant. The hydrant is not owned nor maintained by the Milwaukee Water Works.
  Blue - The hydrant is located at the end of a dead end water main. These hydrants are flushed annually in addition to the inspection flushing.

Hydrant painting

The Milwaukee Water Works regularly paints hydrants to maintain the finish and prevent corrosion. Most of the hydrants are painted the traditional red color. Yellow paint indicates a hydrant's water supply is from a water main different from the average installation. Most hydrants face the street and the water main to which they are connected. A yellow hydrant may face a street but may be connected to the water main on the side street or in the pedestrian way.

It is dangerous and against the law to open fire hydrants without permission. The penalty for tampering with a hydrant is a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail.

  • Illegally opened hydrants cause water pressure to drop, making it difficult to put out a fire.
  • Breaking open a hydrant makes it unusable to put out a fire.
  • The strong water spray is hazardous and motorists may not see pedestrians in the spray.
  • The spray obstructs the view of motorists and can cause accidents.
  • Illegally opened hydrants waste millions of gallons of treated water as it drains into sewers. Wasting the water is expensive to everyone and a waste of a precious resource.

Only the Fire Department, the Milwaukee Water Works, and specially permitted projects are allowed to open hydrants. Report tampering and open hydrants 24 hours a day by calling the Milwaukee Water Works Control Center, (414) 286-3710.

Other ways to cool off with water
Cool Spots provide a place to cool off in a water spray on hot summer days, June - August. Cool Spot sprinklers are staffed by Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) Community Recreation staff on selected school playgrounds. Cool Spots are open 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on days when the temperature is predicted to be 85 degrees or hotter, or when the City of Milwaukee declares a heat advisory.
Cool off in a Milwaukee County pool or water park. Jump in Lake Michigan. Turn on a hose and sprinkler in your backyard and invite your neighbors to come over and cool off.

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History of MWW

From a tiny village in 1830, Milwaukee grew quickly to a city of nearly 100,000 people in 1870. But it was a city without a municipal water or sewer system. Shallow wells, springs, streams, and vendors with "water wagons" provided water to residents. Before long, the shallow wells and streams were badly polluted. And, with limited water available for fire protection, any fire had the potential to spread to a large area of the city. The need for a public water supply became even more apparent.

In the early 1860s Milwaukee was too deeply in debt to secure financing for a water works. By 1868, however, things had improved somewhat, and the Common Council secured the services of E. S. Chesbrough, who had designed the Chicago water system, to do the same for Milwaukee.

A thorough man, Chesbrough considered not only Lake Michigan but also the upper Milwaukee river and inland lakes as possible sources of water supply. Water from inland sources would flow by gravity into the city, minimizing pumping costs. But these sources were limited, while Lake Michigan contained a seemingly inexhaustible supply of high quality water. So, despite higher pumping costs, Chesbrough chose Lake Michigan as the supply for Milwaukee water.

A Board of Water Commissioners under whose direction the original construction work of the water works was performed, held its first meeting on April 18, 1871, the official date of organization of the Milwaukee Water Works. Construction began early in 1872.

The first water works consisted of a pumping station on the lake shore (North Point) containing two steam pumping engines of eight million gallons per day (MGD) capacity each, a raw water intake, a standpipe (North Point Tower), a reservoir (Kilbourn Reservoir) and 58 miles of water distribution mains ranging in size from 6" to 36" in diameter.

By Fall 1873, after just two construction seasons and without the aid of modern equipment, this entire system was ready to be placed into operation, except for the North Point pumping station. Because of a now desperate need for fire protection, a portable steam pump, a shed, and piping were quickly erected on the west bank of the Milwaukee River, just north of the present North Avenue bridge. The pump was started on Oct. 24, 1873 and began to fill the Kilbourn Reservoir at the rate of about 800,000 gallons per day. By Nov. 3, the reservoir was nearly one-half full and water was released into the water mains. Four days later, the first fire was extinguished using water from hydrants. This fire, at 667 Marshall Street, was far from any other source of water.

On Sept. 14, 1874, the pumps at the North Point pumping station began pumping lake water into the distribution system. The temporary plant at the river was abandoned.

The cost of the original water works under the Board of Water Commissioners, up to 1875, was $1.9 million. The board financed the cost by a bond issue of $1.6 million bearing 7% interest.

In accordance with a charter provision, the control and management of the water works was relinquished to a Board of Public Works on July 1, 1875. From then until 1912, the utility was under the direction of the City Engineer, after which time it became a separate bureau, and later, a division of the Department of Public Works, directed by a Superintendent.

-- Excerpted from the book "A Century of Milwaukee Water," by Elmer W. Becker, MWW Superintendent 1964-1972, by Jim Meyer, MWW Accountant, 1967-2003

Learn about the historic North Point Tower, featured in Doors Open Milwaukee, sponsored by Historic Milwaukee, Inc.
Read about the Riverside Pumping Station

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Pryor Avenue Well

The Pryor Avenue Well in Bay View has been lovingly restored by friends, neighbors, the Bay View Neighborhood Association, and the Bay View Historical Society. The historic well is back in service. The group continues to collect donations for the project. They volunteered their time and worked with a contractor they selected and hired, with the approval of Ald. Tony Zielinski and the Milwaukee Water Works. The monument covering the only public well in Milwaukee was restored to its original appearance of 1919, as approved by Historic Preservation Commission. Plans for Spring 2014 include restoring the Clement Avenue-brick-covered pavement around the well.

The well, on Pryor Avenue between S. Superior and S. Wentworth Street in the Bay View area, originally was an artesian well. An electric, submersible pump installed in the 1980s brings water to the spigot taps. The well depth is 120 feet.

The City of Milwaukee owns the well which is located in the public way. The Milwaukee Water Works maintains the site of the well but does not treat the water. The well is not connected to the drinking water system of treatment plants and distribution mains. The Milwaukee Water Works holds a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) permit for a "transient, non-community well." In an agreement with the DNR effective in 2011, the Ozaukee County Health Department tests the water for Total Coliform Bacteria monthly and for Nitrates annually, and performs periodic inspections. For 2012, Total Coliform Bacteria were not detected; Nitrates were less than 1 part per million (ppm). The well water is higher in iron and sulfates than treated drinking water, but has a similar fluoride content.

The Pryor Avenue Well dates back to 1882. The Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission designated it a historic structure in 1987. The Pryor Avenue well is the only public open well operating in Milwaukee.

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Water mains

The Milwaukee Water Works (MWW) distribution system includes 1,960 miles of water mains. If laid end to end, the mains would form a pipeline long enough to reach from Milwaukee to Seattle.

Protecting the city's infrastructure

Since 1993, the Milwaukee Water Works, with the endorsement of the Mayor and Common Council, has invested $417 million in water treatment, water quality monitoring, water mains and pumping facilities, real-time monitoring, customer service, and security to ensure high quality water and water service. The Capital Improvements Program prioritizes projects based on results of water-elated research, new technology, and condition assessments of existing systems.

The MWW repairs and maintains the water distribution piping system in Milwaukee, Greenfield, Hales Corners, and St. Francis to ensure continuous delivery of sufficient high-quality water. Scheduled maintenance activities include inspection and repair of facilities within planned paving projects, annual flushing of certain mains, leak surveys to identify non-surfacing water leaks, and a hydrant inspection program.

After the water is treated, it flows into large underground clearwells at the water treatment plants that temporarily hold the water before it is pumped into the distribution system. Water mains form an underground network in a grid system for distributing water. MWW uses 14 sizes of mains made primarily of cast iron, ductile iron; larger mains are made of high pressure concrete.

The larger diameter water mains, or feeder mains, are in diameters of 20", 24", 30", 36", 42", 48", 54", 60", and 84". They carry water from the three major pumping stations to smaller mains in the distribution system, and to seven booster stations to ensure consistent and adequate water pressure throughout the various elevations in the service area. These mains are in diameters of 4", 6", 8", 12", and 16". The pumping and booster stations also pump water into storage facilities such as two elevated storage tanks and four ground level tanks for additional supply during increased water demand periods.

The Milwaukee Water Works maintains approximately 20,000 hydrants throughout its service area.

Causes of main breaks

A main break is a crack, split, or hole in the pipe from which water escapes. Some of the causes of main breaks are ground movement (e.g., due to frost penetration), changes in water pressure, corrosive soil conditions, electrical corrosion, being struck during excavation by other underground utility work, pressure from heavy traffic or construction, and normal age deterioration.

Almost half of the breaks in any given year occur in December, January, and February. Increased soil pressures, caused by freezing, thawing, and shifting, affect weak spots of a water main, causing breaks.

Most main breaks occur in the most prevalent diameters of pipe, 6" and 8". The MWW repairs an average of 709 main breaks per year. Because water mains are under a lot of pressure, there can be a large amount of water escaping even with a small hole.

Report a water main break

Please call the Milwaukee Water Works 24-hour Control Center, (414) 286-3710.

The water main repair response

When a main break or water leak in the street is reported, the Control Center dispatches a Field Investigator to assess the situation and determine the appropriate utility response, authorize the call-out of repair crews if needed, and assist in obtaining materials, supplies, maps, and records to expedite repairs. The Investigator determines if there is a water leak, and if so, takes steps to isolate the leak by operating underground valves. The valves are throttled to regulate the water flow and reduce the amount of water flowing while still providing water to customers. Although we don't want to waste water, we try to continue water service to customers as much as possible and minimize shutoffs. If the main break is creating damage that cannot be controlled by throttling the main, the water will be shut off without notice.

"We call before we dig"

The Wisconsin Diggers Hotline law requires the Milwaukee Water Works to notify all other utilities with underground equipment, cables, gas lines, etc., located near the main break. Before our crew is allowed to excavate for repairs, a representative from other underground utilities must assess the situation and provide the location of their facilities to avoid damage during excavation. This also protects our crews working on the site.

Water main repairs in progress

Once utilities are marked, the crew proceeds to locate the leak. Because water takes the path of least resistance, the place where the water is surfacing does not always correspond to the location of the break. To locate the break and avoid unnecessary excavating, the crew may drill test holes through the pavement. They then push metal probing rods through the holes to make contact with the water main and listen for the leak sound to better pinpoint the location of the escaping water. Once the crew locates the leak, they notify customers in the area of the water shutoff and give them time to draw a temporary supply of water while the crew sets up barricades and digging equipment.

"Don't wake me - just fix it"

The MWW repair crew will notify customers affected by the water shutoff by going door-to-door telling them to prepare for a water outage. Customers who do not answer will receive a door hanger on their front door. To avoid disturbing customers, we do not provide direct notification between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. At any time, customers may call the Milwaukee Water Works 24-hour Control Center, 414-286-3710, for information about the status of a repair.

Excavating and repair

The repair crew begins by installing environmental protection measures around the site to reduce the amount of erosion and runoff. Then they dig at the location of the leak. Once excavated, they protect the hole from collapsing. This is essential to protect workers. They remove some of the dirt around the main and replace it with new material, then repair the main. The crew then slowly opens a valve to allow water to flow from a hydrant. This reduces the amount of air trapped in the system and thoroughly flushes the main to ensure high quality water.

Once the repair is complete, the water is turned back on and the hole is filled and covered with blacktop as a temporary patch or restored with permanent pavement by the Department of Public Works Street Maintenance Division. Landscaping repairs for grassy areas in the public way are completed during warm weather months.

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Water pressure

The water pressure entering buildings in the Milwaukee Water Works (MWW) service area averages between 40 and 74 pounds per square inch (psi). Generally, higher elevations have lower pressures. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires water utilities to maintain a certain level of pressure at all times to ensure enough water pressure to fight fires.

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Water softeners

Use of a water softener is a personal preference. Milwaukee water is considered moderately hard and generally, water softeners are not necessary.

Please note it is not healthy to drink water that has been softened by a water softener. Softened water contains high levels of sodium. If you prefer to use softened water for laundry and bathing, make sure your plumbing provides cold water that is not softened for drinking and cooking.

Learn more about Water softeners

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Quagga mussels

Quagga mussels colonize on surfaces such as water intake pipes, docks, boat hulls, commercial fishing nets, and native shellfish. The Milwaukee Water Works uses chlorine to pre-treat Lake Michigan water that enters the intake cribs far below the surface of the water. The chlorine prevents the mussels from clogging the intake pipes.

Find more information at the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute

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