It’s pretty hard to miss – a large sign posted at the edge of a cornfield on Old Sauk and Pioneer roads that reads, “Future site of Madison Water Tower.” But the sign isn’t actually in Madison. It’s in the Town of Middleton.
“Based on the topography and landscape, this is the ideal site for a tower,” explains Madison Water Utility project engineer Pete Holmgren. “(A tower) has been planned and sited here for 15 years at this point. And now that the demand for water is high enough, we’re going forward with some of the design and development plans.”
Predicting growth on the far west side, Madison Water Utility bought 17 acres of land in the Town of Middleton back in 2000. Today, that land is about a half mile from the westernmost edge of the City of Madison, and the utility insists now it the time to use it for a tower.
“In order for development to continue in this corner of the city, we have to do something,” says Madison Water Utility principal engineer Al Larson. “Every time there’s a development, we have to demonstrate that we can provide adequate fire flow … It’s becoming harder and harder as more and more houses are built over here.”
One of the first steps will be to annex the land into the City of Madison. The utility will also begin working with neighbors living on the far west side and in the Town of Middleton on design of the facility, currently being called the Blackhawk Tower. Once completed in 2018, it will hold a million gallons of water – easily the biggest water tower on the west side.
“It’s going to combine what was originally a proposal for two west side towers,” says Holmgren, pointing out that the tower would connect and hydraulically balance two pressure zones, one to the northeast of the site and one to the southeast. “This would help merge two pressure zones and would reduce the need for an additional tower. So it would serve the near-future needs of the area but then also ideally far-future needs.”
Larson insists those near-future needs are pressing.
“All these folks (on the far west side) are living on one pumping station … If you have more than 50 houses, the DNR recommends that you have a gravity-fed system – a water tower. It's our design standard, and it’s in our policy.”
Holmgren admits that news of the Blackhawk Tower probably comes as a shock to many neighbors in the Town of Middleton who get their water from private wells and won’t see any direct benefit from the tower.
“It’s a large project and that’s why we’re putting the signs up, to get the dialogue started as soon as possible now that this project is becoming a reality.”
Some nearby residents interested in giving input have already visited the project website to join the Blackhawk Water Tower email list, where they’ll get surveys, regular updates, access to design drawings and notifications about public meetings.
Larson says the $3.6 million tower is a major infrastructure project for the utility, one that likely means much more than water is coming to the area.
“We’re tasked with providing adequate water supply to existing residents, but we’re also tasked with providing the infrastructure to allow the city to grow” says Larson. “It’s in the city’s plan for the area to be developed.”