Many city-dwellers consider water tanks iconic parts of their skylines. In the flatlands of the rural Midwest, the village water tank may be the most prominent—and the tallest—structure for miles around. But did you ever stop to think why we still use water tanks and how they work? Keep reading to learn more.
Water tanks provide additional water pressure to municipal water systems. Cities and towns that use water towers would need more powerful pumps and additional pumping stations without them. That would push energy costs up. Storing water high above the pipes through which it will eventually flow takes advantage of the power of gravity. When city pumps can’t maintain adequate pressure to serve demand, the water tower kicks in, adding pressure to the system and getting water to residents during the morning and evening hours, when water use surges.
Keeps Water Flowing During Power Outages
Most water tanks hold enough water to service their communities for 24 hours. That can get a town through a power outage, when the main pumps don’t work. A large water tank uses the power of gravity alone to keep water flowing during emergencies.
Refilled and Ready
When a town draws a lot of water from its tower in the morning and evening, a pump refills the tower during the night, when far fewer people are consuming water. That way, the tower is ready for the next morning rush, and it can send water down to supplement the power of main pumps and pumping stations when it’s needed.
If you experience low water pressure in your home, the problem could be with the municipal system. The water tower can act as a backup while the city determines the source of the problem—a broken pump, a leak, or some other maintenance issue that’s reducing the flow.
In some older cities, individual buildings over four stories tall (as high as a city system can usually pump the water) have their own water tanks on the roofs and a pump in the basement that replenishes water when the level in the tank is low. Taller buildings have their own systems of pumps and tanks, distributed in stages to mechanical floors where water is stored in tanks and pumped to higher floors. That way, no single pump must generate a dangerous level of pressure to get the water to the highest floors.
Water towers are parts of the American landscape and American lore. They’re iconic fixtures in small towns and defining elements of big cities, where rooftop tanks still abound. They’re uncomplicated energy-savers, which is a big part of why we still use water towers.