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City's Sewer System
When the city was chartered in 1850 it boasted no sewers. Up to that time the only drainage was by open ditches and wooden pipes. Cheaply constructed culverts still spanned the spring rivulets crossing some downtown streets.
Three or four years later, before the streets had been very well graded, the city, with little foresight or possibly because it lacked funds, put in some sewers, which were lines of box pines made of planks put together in square form, with inside dimensions of six to twelve inches.
When grading was begun in earnest in 1855 the city realized that such sewers would not serve a growing community, and the next year, when Monroe avenue was paved with cobblestones down to Campau square, the first brick sewer was laid in that main street. In 1857 short sewers, on drains, were laid at the foot of old Canal, Michigan and Crescent streets, and one of greater length from Washington street toward the river.
The citizens evidently did not realize the importance of a proper system of sewers until about 1865. In the early part of that year what was called a city grade bench was established. This was a large granite boulder, appropriately marked and sunk in the ground at the southwest corner of Monument park, Monroe and Division. This was adopted as the starting point from which to establish grades, and for a number of years thereafter the fixing of grades of sewers, as well as of streets east of the river, was determined with reference to the big boulder.
At the present time, for all elevations in the city, the low water mark in the river at the Fulton street bridge is considered as elevation zero, which is 589.01 feet above sea level and 6 3/4 feet above the normal level of Lake Michigan.
After 1865 sewer construction proceeded rapidly and today much of this work is being done. Up to 1926 there had been built 334 miles of sewers, which vary in size from 8 inches to 13 feet. The total cost of the system to this year has been $5,528,000.
Inasmuch as the sewers emptied into Grand river, the residents below the city made compliant. Wyoming township brought suit and in 1911 the state supreme court ordered Grand Rapids to cease pollution of Grand river with sewage and industrial waste. In November, 1922, the state board of health issued a peremptory order that the city must install a sewage disposal plant. A year later the people voted in favor of a city bond issue of $5,000,000 to comply with the orders of the supreme court and of the state board of health.
Immediately work was begun. The sewer system had to be virtually rebuilt. That gigantic task is still unfinished. By the time it is completed, probably in 1928, the sewage treatment plant, which will render all sewage harmless before it is emptied into Grand river, will have been built, on 160 acres west of Rathbun road on the left bank of the river.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000