USGS - science for a changing world

The USGS Water Science School

Water for Cities

Nowadays, the United States is an urbanized country - the vast majority of us live in cities. When you have hundreds of people living in a square mile, it is much more efficient to have the county/city water department deliver water to households than to have everyone drill their own well or build their own water tank. Municipal water systems supply water for a city's residential, commercial, parkland, schools, and fire-fighting needs. Even industries get some of their water from these public-supply systems.

So just how does your city supply water to you? A great deal of engineering goes into supplying our water needs. Cities have to have a means of storing a tremendous amount of water so it is available when we need it. Probably, somewhere near you (at a higher altitude), a river was dammed to form a reservoir. These reservoirs can be very large or they may cover just a few acres. Sometimes a well is dug to supply groundwater to the storage reservoir. Closer to your home might be a water tower, which will always be built on high ground.

Cities often use very basic ways to get water into your drinking glass at your home. The cheapest and easiest way is to simply use gravity. Water flows through water pipes from the reservoir or water tank (situated on a hill) to your home. Gravity provides water pressure to send water on its way to you. The water pipes coming out of a water tower might be very large, but the pipes are reduced in diameter as they move though town, kind of like the branches of a tree.

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Related topics:

Public-supply water use

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