Water Towers: Lighthouses of the Landscape
By Mike Darrow
Posted on 7/2/2018 6:24 AM
Well, it’s summer vacation time, and recently I had an opportunity to a take road trip from Florida to my hometown 1300 miles north. Along the path of the winding roads and countryside, I saw wonderful sights, such as mountains, valleys, flatlands, and rolling hills. I saw towns and cities of many different shapes and sizes. All of this was great, but the one thing that stands out in my mind was the water towers. Like lighthouses, where there’s one in every harbor to protect sailors, our water towers across America are “lighthouses of the landscape” and are doing a similar thing—protecting sustainability for public water supply.
As you know, water towers are used for water pressure, fire prevention, and potable water supply for the sustainably of a community. They stood out like beacons as I traveled from city to city. Most every town had one (or even two and
three!). The duties we perform as water professionals are usually far out of the mind of the public, but our work provides safe drinking water, protects the environment by treating wastewater, and ensures that stormwater flows correctly to prevent flooding. The water tower is really the most prominent part of our industry that’s in the public eye for everyone to see.
My observation is that water towers and tanks stand as a visual representation of the city’s pride towering over the landscape, as well as showcasing what we do for the community. I see many of them with colorful displays painted on them, and many times they have the name of the city they represent proudly displayed high in the air. As I drove around, in some places the name on the tank was the only way I knew where I was!
Many different colors, shapes, and paint schemes exist on these water towers; some included a large painted golf ball and tee, a coffee pot, a very large smiley face, a giant peach, a baseball, a basketball, an eight ball, and yes, even “hot” and “cold” tanks. Some of them along the journey had city slogans on them, like “A town full of nice people,” the name of the high school mascot, the city seal, or a graphic display of what the area is known for. We in Florida have some water tanks, too, like the City of Lakeland’s Publix birthday cake water tower. Also, Plant City, where I work, is a great example of this with its strawberry water tank, as we’re known for our great strawberry farms and production facilities.
I observed that the shapes of the water towers were mainly circular. This shape has the most uniform stress distribution for loading. The stress generated by fluid in the tank distributes equally in all directions. In case of rectangular or square shapes, the stress concentration would be too high in corners and cause the seams to burst with water. This is the prime reason that most of the large storage tanks are made in a round shape. There’s a fun fact to share with your
Long ago, water was stored in barrels or cisterns in the ground, keeping water for when it was needed. Then, over time, we moved to wood water tanks and brick standpipes, many of which were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was done through industrial tanks or architectural-style buildings for more consistent water pressure to the area. Some examples of old classic architectural- style standpipes, including Chicago’s Water Tower in downtown; the water tower Louisville, Ky.; or the North Point water tower in Milwaukee, Wis., are all fine examples of this application.
Rooftop water towers were installed to supply local buildings for the same reason. With new construction developments, water towers were made higher for more elevated storage using steel, concrete, or brick to maintain more consistent pressure and water supply with the frequent loss of power in the early to mid-1900s.
Spheroid steel-elevated water towers were developed in the 1950s and mainly used for under a million gallons. The highest spheroid tank today is around 220 feet above ground, most in the 100- to 150-foot range. This style was the most common found on the roadside seen while I traveling. Remember to take care of your water tanks and water towers—someone is always looking at them!
Happy Fourth of July to you! We live in a great country, where water plays a big role in our everyday life. Enjoy the view the next time you’re on the road!