Over 100 years ago, the first wastewater treatment plant in Madison was built, about 50 years before most other communities had such a facility! In 1887, 18 districts  in Madison were served by public sewers that supported the approximate population of 12,000 residents. The sewers discharged raw sewage directly into Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. Within a couple years, Madison residents expressed their concern about discharging raw sewage into their beautiful city’s lakes which were a source of pleasure for many residents and tourists. As the need for a more unified method of sewage collection and disposal became evident, the city, in 1895, authorized a sewage treatment plant utilizing chemical precipitation.

The chemical precipitation process was up and running in May of 1898, but was abandoned by January 1901 due to producing unsatisfactory effluent (water being discharged into nature). The chemical precipitation process was replaced by a septic tank and trickling filters located at the Burke Plant (credited with being the first trickling filter plant in the United States!). As the city continued growing, it became apparent that an additional sewage treatment plant was needed. By 1928, the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant was up and running with a capacity of 5 million gallons per day (MGD).

Madison’s sewage treatment capacity was up to 10 MGD between the Nine Springs and the Burke Wastewater Treatment Plants. Due to the growth of several municipalities in 1930, the most feasible way of disposing of wastewater in the metropolitan area was to create the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD).  By 1936 the first addition to the Nine Spring wastewater treatment plant was complete. This increased the capacity by 6.25 MGD and allowed for the Burke Plant to be taken offline.

A few years after the first addition was complete a state law was passed prohibiting effluent discharge into Madison lakes. MMSD decided to route the effluent water to Badfish Creek, where most of the effluent water is discharged today.  Effluent is also recycled to Badger Mill Creek to maintain the balance of water between the Sugar River watershed and the Yahara River watershed.

Today MMSD receives approximately 42 million gallons of wastewater every day. Although treatment processes, service areas and workers have changed, the goal is still the same - treat wastewater in ways that don’t cause undue harm to our beautiful lakes and streams while providing excellent services to Madison and the surrounding municipalities.

 Treatment plant 1936  Treatment plant 1986  Current treatment plant