When Appleton first built the combined sanitary and storm sewer system in 1883, the world was a much different place. There wasn’t the widespread concern for the environment, and more specifically, water quality wasn’t a top priority issue. In fact, it could be said that many people took the quality of air and water for granted.
However, by the 1930’s, as more people moved into the city and more industries were developing, our community and government became more aware and concerned about the quality of our environment. During this period of time, the Fox River had become so polluted that it was unable to sustain the habitat of its native fish and wildlife species. It became apparent that the city needed to provide a means of treating their wastewater. This awareness led to the 1937 construction of the Appleton Sewerage Treatment Plant and Interceptor Sewer System. This plant provided primary treatment which meant that the wastewater was only partially treated before discharge to the Fox River.
The concept that all of our pollution would somehow disappear without a trace was shattered in the 1960’s when water quality surveys began to show the extent to which our natural waters were polluted. Appleton led the way in combating this problem with the expansion of the treatment facilities in the mid-1960’s to include secondary treatment. The secondary treatment process enabled the city to process its wastewater more effectively while simultaneously ensuring that this treatment resulted in a cleaner discharge to the river.
In the 1970’s, the Appleton Wastewater Treatment Plant again began planning for necessary improvements to meet the requirements of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendment of 1972 that stated "discharge of pollutants into the navigable water (which include all natural streams and lakes) be eliminated by 1985". During this same period, concerns for the Great Lakes and its tributaries led to the signing international agreements between the United States and Canada to enact clean water legislation as well as to promote the preservation of these resources.
Construction of the most recent phase of treatment expansion improvements began in 1990 and were completed in 1994. This latest endeavor has prepared Appleton for the future with greater efficiencies than ever before. It also enables the Appleton Wastewater Treatment Plant to grow with the community while continuing to effectively provide the best treatment services possible. This commitment to our community was recognized when the plant was the recipient of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 1999 First Place National Award in the Large Secondary Treatment Category.