Ann Arbor's reservoirs in the sky
by Bob & Jorja Feldman
From the March, 2019 issue
On Plymouth Rd. near Green Rd., there is a body of water--up to 500,000 gallons of it--suspended twenty stories up. There's another on Washtenaw near Manchester Rd. of approximately the same volume, floating fourteen stories up. Brian Steglitz, the city's water treatment services manager, calls Ann Arbor's two water towers our "reservoirs in the sky."
Households use lots of water in the morning but much less at night. The aerial reservoirs allow Ann Arbor's system to meet this variable demand efficiently. Water from the city's treatment plant on Sunset Rd. is pumped up into two ground storage reservoirs, on North Campus and South Industrial Highway, and from there into the towers. It's released as needed, harnessing the force of gravity to provide pressure for the city's showers.
To meet this goal, the towers need to be tall enough to serve their surrounding areas. At one time both towers were equal in height, but as the north side grew, pumping stations were needed to serve new neighborhoods. Rather than maintain those, the city replaced the Plymouth Rd. tower with a taller one.
The west and east-central sections of the city are still served by direct pumping. Steglitz says the city considered adding towers to serve those areas but decided pumping was cheaper. As for downtown, well, downtown is downhill from Sunset Rd. Water from the water treatment plant provides sufficient pressure there without tower or pump intervention.
Steglitz says neither water tower has leaked during his tenure. However, one did overflow once due to an equipment problem. Fortunately, this had been anticipated: the towers have overflow pipes and concrete splash pads at their bases.
The towers remind us of gigantic chess pieces, and like some important chess pieces, each is crowned with a ring of cellular antennae. More antennae hang on the towers' "stems," and equipment huddles around their bases. Cellular service providers pay rent to the city for all these spaces.
Both towers are artistically enhanced. The
Plymouth Rd. tower sports clouds against a painted blue sky along with the city's name. Designed by then-
U-M art student Michael Evashevski, it was selected from more than 500 proposals by the city's Commission on Art in Public Places. The Washtenaw design--stylized images of local wildlife by local illustrator Bill Burgard--beat out nearly 600 other concepts in an online poll.
Learning more about the water towers enhanced our appreciation of their presence, not only as art, but for the service they provide. So hoist a glass of city water in salute to the towers. That sip may have journeyed high and low through a water tower and underground pipes to reach your glass.
[Originally published in March, 2019.]
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