Whenever you’re on a mid-west road trip, there’s one sure fire way to know you reach a new town. No matter how big or small the towns, they almost all have water towers. Some towers are massive feats of engineering, rising aplomb where civilization thirsts. Others seem like little more than a few gallons perched on sticks in the middle of nowhere. Many of them are adorned with local high school mascots. One tower in nearby me even hails the ‘fighting farmers.’ (No joke, that’s really a high school mascot.) I’m fairly certain we all know what a water tower is, but what are they? What do they do?
I bet some of you are asking, “who cares?” Well, someone asked me and I happened to have the answer for them. I realized I would be happy if I could save at least one more person the embarrassment of having to ask the question. The answer is: fish. They are built to house endangered marine wildlife.
…very endangered marine wildlife.
Just kidding. The obvious answer is that they hold water. This is true, but it isn’t the main purpose of water towers. It seems like there wouldn’t be enough water in one tower to shower a whole town every day (even the towns where not everyone takes a shower every day . . . ew). The main reason towns have towers is to create water pressure.
Think about it. When your electricity goes out, the water still runs, right? Sure it does. That’s because somewhere, that water is being ‘pushed’ through the pipes. It’s kind of like your toilet. The water in the tank is held at a level above the bowl so that when you pull the lever, the water falls down (and swirls, but that’s a whole other discussion). Keyword: gravity. Water towers hold enormous amounts of water to provide what’s called hydrostatic pressure to push water through pipes, using gravity.
So why are they raised? For residential prowess and pride? No. (That would be too easy to make fun of!) It’s more physics than is worth explaining, but it’s the same concept as siphoning. The water source (the water tower) works better if it is at a higher elevation than the destination (all of the plumbing in your house).
Now, if someone asks you why we have water towers, you have two options. You could tell them what you now know, that they are for water pressure. Or you could intentionally lead them astray down the ignorance-paved path. Tell them it’s a cheaper way for tiny towns to advertise than billboards and then laugh when they tell the next sucker!