Utilities owns and operates a drinking water plant, and the infrastructure to distribute drinking water and collect stormwater and wastewater from campus.
Cornell’s first water treatment plant was founded in 1903 by the steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who then served on the University’s Board of Trustees. At the time, a deadly typhoid epidemic was spreading through the City of Ithaca.
The city’s public water was polluted with Salmonella Typhi during construction of the Six Mile Creek dam, led by the privately held Ithaca Water Company (IWC). The IWC had opted not to build a filtration plant before going ahead with construction, even though the water had long been suspect.
Due in part to limited sanitation standards at a creek-side workers’ camp, Six Mile Creek was contaminated, and typhoid began killing area residents, eventually 82 in all, including 29 Cornell students.
After a brief battle with typhoid fever himself, Carnegie decided to provide the funds for a campus water treatment plant. Also in the aftermath, Ithaca residents voted for the city to have permanent governance over its water system.
There is a large amount of literature that provides more context on this tragic subject, including on-line newspaper stories, government reports from the period, and a 2011 book by David DeKok, “The Epidemic: A Collision of Power, Privilege, and Public Health.” Today, Cornell University owns and maintains its own potable water system, serving campus and portions of the surrounding community. The water system is regulated by the state Department of Health and federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The current Cornell Water Filtration Plant, which was built in 1927 - 28, located off of Caldwell Road, across from the entrance to the Plantations’ Arboretum – serves a population of 35,000 including students, faculty, and staff, as well as residents of the hamlet of Forest Home and a portion of the City of Ithaca.
It draws water from Fall Creek which has a 125-square-mile watershed originating in Cayuga County at Lake Como, and can safely provide up to 3.6 million gallons of water per day.
In 2010, a water system improvement project included the construction of a new 1.5 million gallon concrete storage tank on Hungerford Hill, 25,000 feet of new water main, and other upgrades.
Cornell also has emergency agreements with the City of Ithaca Water Treatment Plant and the Bolton Point Municipal Water System for backup water supplies through permanent connections. - Written by Gary Stewart, EastHill Notes, 8/2016