Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Water Tower Obsession:
I've taken to looking for water towers on top of every building I drive by these days, and I think I may have spotted one. It sits on top of an ancient building in downtown Winnipeg, and I can't think of anything that it could be other than a disused water tower. I'm going to keep trying to find out exactly what it is.
As an aside I have a book titles 'The Works: Anatomy of a City' by Kate Ascher. It is a description of the technological details of New York City. The sheer magnitude of the many systems that have to be kept running on an almost minute by minute basis in the case of New York in order to keep the city "somewhat" habitable and many of its millions of inhabitants alive til the next dawn should give pause to any advocate of the romantic concept of "revolution". Cities like New York cannot endure chaos.
In any case New York does have a system of water towers. The author estimates the number at between 10,000 and 15,000. Nobody seems to know the exact number. Interesting, that fact. More modern buildings tend to rely of basement located pumps. this is despite the fact that the water towers are more reliable. Pumps do fail after all. They are also certainly more efficient in terms of energy consumption.
Having mostly been familiar with metal water towers out here on the prairies (mostly in small towns), I was astonished to find out that NY's towers are generally made of wood. This seems like a rather inexpensive mode of construction. No adhesive is needed as the wood swells to block leaks, and galvanized steel hoops hold the wood in place. The insulating properties of wood are also quite good. Three inches of wood has the same insulation factor as 30 inches of concrete. I would still wonder about freezing in the conditions of a Western Canadian winter however.
New York also has a system of reservoirs, divided into collecting, storage and distributing reservoirs. Amazingly NYC has only the same number of distributing reservoirs that Winnipeg has- four, but these reservoirs are, of course, much bigger. To gauge the size of this system Ascher cites the statistic that the reservoir system of NYC covers an area greater than that of the State of Deleware.
Water towers ! Seems to me that cities could do with more. Looking at NYC I can see that the cost of construction would be far less than I imagined. I'm sure that there are many engineering problems, particularly in a cold dry climate like the Canadian prairies, but I doubt that these would be insoluble. Construction of neighbourhood systems of water supply, coupled with methods of water collection and conservation (if a desert like Indian Rajasthan can do it why not Canada ?) might make many cities less dependent on megaprojects for water needs. I doubt that such a system would suffice for all years. This year in Manitoba, for instance, was particularly hot and dry. But they could make cities independent from the need for further expansion of the centralized systems they presently employ.
More on water in the future.

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