August 1, 2019 — On this date in 1894, the Grand Forks City Council approved the purchase of a half block of land to create the city’s first water filtration plant – the first in North Dakota. For two years, the city had been experiencing an epidemic of typhoid fever; 10% of the population had contracted the disease, and 150 people had died. It turns out that a short distance upstream, Crookston was dumping its sewage directly into the Red River – from which Grand Forks got its drinking water.

Unsanitary conditions existed all across the state in those days. Every home had an outhouse that could easily contaminate water from wells. In Bismarck in 1886, untreated water from the Missouri River was being piped into homes and businesses – handy, but not great for drinking.

Many towns also had slaughterhouses, and after hog or beef butchering was completed, there was no systematic means of disposing of rotting carcasses. Runoff from these areas was infested with billions of deadly germs and bacteria – not to mention the stench, flies and maggots.

Hope we didn’t spoil your lunch...

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.

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