Infrastructure: Water in the “Early Days”

February 20, 2017 Development, History0

From an interview with Mirrormont’s developer Rod Loveless:

It was difficult to get water out here. Everybody had wells. So we started Mirrormont Services and developed a water system, then expanded into other areas. At one time we were the 10th largest privately owned water district in WA.

When we first started this, I had been very active in putting in water mains in developments when I platted lots, and I’d do the utilities myself. I’d put in the water mains and dig the ditches for the electrical company. I operated bulldozers and backhoes and road graders. I actually did quite a bit of the work myself out here in the development of Mirrormont.

When we drilled the first well up here for the water system — we got the water before we did the plat, which was a condition, since you had to have a water source when you were platting. So they capped the well until we were ready to start the water system. When we went back to start the water system, somebody had knocked the cap off and dumped a bunch of drill rods down inside the well, which screws you all up because you can’t put a pump in when you’ve got drill rods down inside. We don’t know which one of the neighbors did that, but somebody didn’t want the development to happen. Before the well-digger could put the pumps in, they had to drill out that stuff down there. I ended up with boxes of fragments of steel because they had to slowly hammer that stuff apart to get it out. That was kind of a shock.

As we sold more and more lots, we expanded the water system and it became necessary to build water storage tanks. Our surveyor, Phil Botch, was also the district engineer for the South Seattle Water System. They had a surplus wooden water tank that they were going to get rid of in favor of a large concrete reservoir. We paid them a nominal sum, disassembled it, and hauled it to Mirrormont. I poured a concrete slab and we assembled the tank. It was quite large, about 20 feet tall, made of wooden 2×6 staves, and banded with steel rods on about three foot centers. When it was done, we filled it with water. Since it was a hot day, I let the whole crew go skinny-dipping. Only the younger ones did. We added a little chlorine afterwards. Somehow word got out and I was in trouble with the water customers. We added more chlorine, and marked down another lesson learned.

We kept taking in more and more water customers from surrounding areas as well as the Mirrormont lots. We added more wells and more tanks. We found a tract with a great spring on it, and had the water rights recorded, reserving a small amount for several old time residents of the area. Their names were John C, a retired logger, his son a heavy equipment operator, and his sister Violet. Our engineer Phil Botch gave his approval and a design, and we began to construct a water collection system and water line mains to connect up with the existing water system in Mirrormont. He hadn’t mentioned that the neighbors were a little paranoid about their spring rights. Nor did he mention that John C had served a prison sentence for shooting another logger in the stomach and had a fierce temper. His sister Violet was no shrinking violet either. We no sooner got started working than John threatened to blow the S.O.B. spring to Kingdom Come if we messed with it. We assured them that what we were doing was for the better and that we would give them free water from then on. Eventually we hired John to do some small jobs in the area and we became friends. Later, when we had completed our work, there was some minor problem and Violet was out of water for a day or so. My wife Barbara got a phone call from Violet, and she told Barbara, “I could hang that S.O.B. husband of yours.” And she proceeded to vent her feelings.

Things settled down eventually and the new system functioned quite well. It did seem, however, that major water main breaks always occurred on holidays or weekends. Several times on Thanksgiving or Christmas the phone would ring and somebody was out of water. The people that lived at the higher elevations were always the ones that were first to know.

Quite often the breaks were caused by excessive rainfall. One year, the storm drains were overflowing in Mirrormont and the water all ended up going down through an area where we had just finished installing water lines. The whole hillside washed out, taking a water main with it, and spilled down and across the Hobart Highway. The State Patrol was on it immediately, the highway was closed and we worked like beavers until order was restored.

From an interview with Melinda Codling, moved to Mirrormont in 1973: 

The second winter (1974), the water went out on Christmas day. All of Mirrormont had no water. The guy who ran the water system said, “It’s Christmas, I’m not working on Christmas!” It was a hassle cooking. We collected buckets of water off the roof since the rain gutters were filled. He got it running the next day. After that, we started storing water in garbage cans to use to flush toilets. Once we were without water for three days.

From an interview with Craig Nordlie, son of Glenn Nordlie, who was age 10—12 “back then”:

Back then [early to mid-1960s] there was one water tower. I look now and there are three. The original one is still there; a wooden one; it has all these wire bands around it. That keeps the wood together so it doesn’t split open. Since then, they built two concrete ones. Back when Mirrormont was first starting, my dad would get calls from people living here that they were out of water. The pump went down again. So we’d come out here; we’d bring a bucket of water with us, go up to the water pump. I’d pour the water into the pump and flip the breaker off to the side. When you lose power, the circuit breaker goes off. So you had to pour water into the pump to get the pump working. So I did that with him a couple times. We were living in North Seattle.

My mom and dad were Mirrormont Services for many years. They’d have two guys come every two months, and they would — they called it The Black Books — they had everyone’s address in the book and do one section at a time and read the meters, give them back to my dad and mom and dad would do the billing on the water. The two of them were MM Services. Since then, they sold that off; that was a long time ago, probably back in the 80s.