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Water Services

History of Nashville's Water Services

Water System History

Nashville’s water system has a long and interesting history. The first settlers of Nashville chose the Fort Nashboro site because of the availability of pure water from a spring at that location.

Double Forcing PumpIn 1819, the Corporation of the town of Nashville purchased the rights to a Double Forcing Pump (diagram from patent shown at left), marking the beginning of the first water system in Nashville. By 1826, water was being pumped from the Fort Nashboro spring to a public square reservoir through a water main crafted from hollowed locust and cedar logs.

After a fire destroyed the first water facilities in 1829, a new system was built in the Rolling Mill Hill area east of downtown. This new system, completed in 1833, satisfied the area’s needs until the population increased at the time of the Civil War.

Until the early 20th century, Nashville’s Waterworks did not chemically treat drinking water. Around 1878, in response to several cholera outbreaks, the Health Department, Medical Profession, and Waterworks urged the city to install an island filtering gallery to reduce the amount of waterborne bacteria in the drinking water. Pumps suctioned river water through a gravel and sand filter built into a river island next to the pumping station to physically remove mud and other contaminants.

The City Reservoir, completed in 1889, was constructed as a settling basin, allowing mud to settle out of the river water before the water was distributed. The reservoir, now known as the 8th Avenue Reservoir, is still in use today and holds 50 million gallons of treated water. The George Reyer Pumping Station, at Omohundro Drive, was built in 1889 and was powered by steam until 1953. Download our 8th Avenue Reservoir brochure.

In response to the discovery of harmful bacteria, and to improve the color of the drinking water, Nashville began chemical treatment of the water supply in 1908. Sulphate of alumina (alum) reduced the bacteria and increased the clarity of the naturally-muddy Cumberland river water by coagulating smaller particles into larger, heavier pieces that settled to the bottom of the reservoir. Hypochlorite of lime, added in 1909, was used to disinfect the water. Liquid chlorine replaced hypochlorite of lime in 1920.

In 1912, part of the wall of the 8th Avenue Reservoir slipped and broke open, destroying homes and other property. The Metro Archives at the Nashville Public Library houses the Historic record of personal losses from 8th Avenue Reservoir breakrecord of personal losses and proof of payment made by the Waterworks.

A water filtration plant was completed at Omohundro Drive in 1929. The Omohundro Water Treatment Plant and the Eighth Avenue Reservoir are still in operation today and historical picture, aerial view of metro water services plantare included in the National Registry of Historical Places.

In 1953 Nashville became the second city in Tennessee, following Milan, to fluoridate drinking water for dental health.

The formation of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County brought about the installation of the first fire hydrants in the suburbs.

The K.R. Harrington Water Treatment Plant, located on Heartland Drive in Donelson, joined the Omohundro Treatment Plant in supplying safe, clean water to the Nashville area in 1978.

Throughout the years, Metro Water Services has made changes to chemical processes in accordance with regulations promulgated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In 2016, Metro Water Services transitioned from chlorine to bleach for drinking water disinfection. The new process includes onsite generation of bleach and decreases risks to our community and staff.

Sewer System History

1823 - Brick and Clay Sewers

historical picture, construction of a sewer system

Beginning in 1823, brick and clay sewers were constructed and conveyed both stormwater and sanitary sewage for discharge into the Cumberland River. Some of these sewers were constructed directly in Nashville’s streams. In more rural areas, outhouses gradually gave way to septic tanks as the primary method of disposal for sanitary waste.

1950 - Population Growth

By 1950, as Davidson County’s total population grew to more than 300,000, the discharge of untreated waste and failure of septic systems represented a significant threat to the environment and a challenge for a growing community. The sewer system had evolved to nearly 400 miles of sanitary sewer lines that emptied into a network of combined sewers, which discharged directly into streams and the river. The need was recognized for a system that would capture and treat the sewage.


The Central Wastewater Treatment Plant was built just north of downtown and began operation in 1958. As Nashville and Davidson County continued to grow, so did its wastewater system. The Dry Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant was built in the Rivergate area and began operation in 1961. The Whites Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Nashville was placed in service in 1975.


The 1980s marked the beginning of an aggressive sewer expansion program to help eliminate more septic systems in Davidson County. Even with three treatment plants, this aggressive expansion resulted in a need for additional improvements to control overflows that resulted from the amount of excess water entering the sewer system during rain events.


The Overflow Abatement Program, launched in 1990, was an aggressive program designed to upgrade pumping stations and treatment plant capacities, repair leaking sewers and address combined sewer overflow impacts. Nashville has spent more than $700 million on overflow abatement projects and has made tremendous progress toward improving water quality in the Cumberland River watershed.

History of Nashville's Drinking Water

History of the Cumberland River

History of Nashville