The La Crosse Water Utility is under the direct supervision of the Water and Sewer Utilities Manager, subject to the authority of the Board of Public Works and the Common Council of the City of La Crosse. It is the responsibility of the Utility to operate and maintain all the grounds, buildings, and equipment of the Utility, including 15 wells, two reservoirs, over 220 miles of watermain and the main pumping station.
The Utility operates as a public enterprise but receives no tax money. Instead, it operates on revenues from the sale of water and from private and public fire-protection fees, with the revenue from the sale of water constituting the major source of income. The Utility bonds to provide financing for major improvements to the system when adequate funds are not available for large expenditures. Bonds are paid off from water revenues on a yearly schedule.
Water rates are established for the Utility by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin as deemed necessary to establish an adequate "Rate of Return." The last rate increase was instituted on April 1, 2002.
In the past, water bills were issued semi-annually to the Utility's 16,156 customers based on six different reading routes. Beginning on March 1, 1991, the Utility converted to quarterly billing for two purposes. First, to prepare for sewer service charges that would go into effect on July 1, 1991, with these charges based on winter usage for residential customers and actual usage for all other customers. Second, the sewer service charges would be made a part of the water bill and more frequent billing would be advantageous for the customers and the Utility for budgeting purposes.
La Crosse's source of water is an aquifer consisting of a deposit of glacial outwash sand and gravel in the valley of the periglacial Mississippi River. The sand and gravel aquifer is approximately 170 feet in depth in the La Crosse area, bounded on the east by the bluffs and on the west by the Mississippi River.
Of primary importance is the capacity of the aquifer from which the Utility obtains its water supply. An examination of data kept by the Utility shows no depletion of the water levels in the aquifer, and its capacity appears to be more than adequate to sustain the needs of the City.
In 2010, the Water Utility delivered an average of 9.9 million gallons of water per day to its customers. The maximum day occurred on July 21, 201 when 16.6 million gallons water were pumped. The all-time record day of pumpage occurred on June 6, 1988, when 37.3 million gallons of water were delivered to Water Utility customers.
Also of importance is the quality of water in the aquifer. The Water Utility must provide water of such quality as to comply with the standards for drinking water as prescribed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency's Safe Drinking Water Act. These standards are monitored at regular intervals by the Department of Natural Resources, the County of La Crosse Health Department and the Utility itself. The Water Utility is also required to prepare an annual water quality report to summarize the previous year's operating data, including the types and quantities of contaminants in the water supply. This report is directly mailed to all water system users. You can also view the annual reports at H2O Quality Report.
Recent monitoring of the groundwater has indicated some contamination by manmade chemicals in minute quantities in certain wells. Studies are underway to determine the extent of other potential problems, and extensive monitoring continues to insure that our water quality conforms with the Safe Drinking Water Standards.
The present water supply system consists of 15 high-pressure wells located throughout the City, all approximately 100' to 150' deep, that draw water from the sand and gravel aquifer. A five million gallon reservoir is used to maintain system pressure and to store water for periods of high demand and fire protection.
Fluoridation of the water supply commenced in 1988, following a 1987 Common Council resolution and a 1988 advisory referendum. The water supply is also chlorinated for public protection.
The Water Utility serves most developed areas within the City limits and the designated fringe areas abutting the City limits as established by the Common Council on May 14, 1953, and Dec. 8, 2005. Several City of La Crosse properties are served with water from Onalaska under an agreement between the two cities.