AWWA Articles

Spokane Water revives iconic statue

It took a new office and some great perks to convince Willy Water to come out of retirement in Spokane, Wash., and rejoin the city’s water department.

Beloved by a generation of Spokane residents, Willy (pictured right) – a 15-foot tall metal statue with a stick figure and water droplet head – stood at attention for 45 years atopWilly Water statue in Spokane a rooftop fountain above a city water reservoir. From 1969 to 2014 he faithfully cheered on locals with a raised concrete glass of refreshing tap water.

Willy, formally known as Willing Water, was a mascot introduced by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) in the late 1940s to raise public awareness about the vital community services provided by member water utilities.

Willing Water logoAlso known as Willie, the mascot represented the “spirit of water service” and starred in Association and member advertising, publicity photos and bill inserts across the United States, often with the slogan, “Water at Your Service.” (Pictured left)

Willing offered helpful water-saving tips and appeared in numerous water sector publications, including a comic book and a cookbook, until his retirement in 1990.

The Spokane statue of the Willing mascot was built by water department employees and installed in 1969. Residents of apartments near the statue were so fond of their iconic neighbor that they would call to alert the water department if a fountain jet was plugged or a light burned out.

Sadly, Willy’s failing health – chronic rust – and the need to conduct extensive maintenance on the underlying reservoir tank holding 7.2 million gallons of drinking water, led toRusting original Willy Water statue the difficult decision that it was time for Willy to retire. (Pictured right)

As gently and respectfully as possible, water department employees removed the icon to water service from his post in 2014.

 “When it was time for the Willy Water statue to retire, the water department staff who had enjoyed seeing Willy on a daily basis made sure he wasn’t just scrapped,” said Loren Searl, Spokane’s water operations superintendent. “We wanted to restore him to his former glory for the community to see again.”

Over the next several years, a group of dedicated city employees took it upon themselves to refurbish Willy, with Searl personally doing every bit of the paint work. Earlier this year, Willy was reinstated at his new location – in front of the water department headquarters in Spokane.

“The Willy statue is a historical part of the water industry and a part of our community,” Searl said. “Just about everyone who passed through the neighborhood east of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center knew Willy. Now we can all enjoy seeing him again.”

Willy was an original, among the last of his beloved generation. Fortunately, a new wave of consumers is reminded of water’s value through Willing Water’s famous descendent, Eddy. AWWA’s current mascot -- the lovable, tennis-shoe clad blue water droplet -- made a splash with his introduction at ACE15 and continues Willing’s legacy of representing the world’s most important resource.