The Firgrove Mutual Water Company
by Carl Vest
Water has always been a problem on South Hill. The struggle is not the requirement to get rid of rain that falls during most of the winter months, but a need to have enough useable water to maintain a normal lifestyle. This statement may seem to be a non relevant issue to most people now living on the Hill. After all, you just turn on the faucet and the water flows. Historically, however, useable water has not always been available in the neighborhood.
Early settlers on the Hill dug their own wells. At first the digging was by hand but as time passed it was done by drilling. After the Tacoma water reservoir was constructed there are stories of local folks tapping into its wooden pipeline to obtain water. Several family histories of early settlers tell stories about traveling to water sources in wagons, filling 50 gallon drums, and bringing them back to the farm for family and cattle usage. So the finding of useable water has always been a problem.
By about the middle of the 20th century a group of about 50 farmers in the Firgrove area decided to try a more systematic approach to the water dilemma. They decided to create a domestic farmstead water system. They initially started formulating this idea about 1945 and by 1952 had created a mutual water company. The idea of a mutual organization gave each member a part ownership and assured that each user would pay a fair share. They named the business The Firgrove Mutual Water Company.
When Firgrove Mutual came into being, in 1952, it consisted of 48 members. The initial capital was $14,400. It was estimated that $66,000 was needed to develop a source and to construct a distribution system. A loan of $50,000 was obtained from the Federal Farm Home Administration. Land was purchased. The first building was constructed in 1953. It was a concrete block house and originally held two pressure tanks. It was converted to office use in the 1960s. In the 1980s the current office was constructed.
In 1982 a study by Pierce County determined that at that time Firgrove Mutual had 1,317 connections and 12 sources of water. It had a storage capacity of 1,589,000 gallons. The company was being successfully operated by its members and was growing as the Hill became more populated.
By 2001, after another 20 years, the number of Firgrove Mutual accounts had increased to 5,591, serving a population estimated at 17,500. That year the company pumped 763,000,000 gallons of water.
Mutual’s annual report for 2010 shows there are now 8,199 connections (or owners) in the system. A population of about 25,129 is being served. Water is now obtained from 16 operating wells scattered throughout its service area. About 1.06 billion gallons of water was produced in 2010.
Firgrove Mutual provides useable water to about a ten mile square area of South Hill. It is an outstanding example of cooperative workmanship among the citizens of South Hill to solve a problem that was common to all.
Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.