Water supply

From Academic Kids

A water supply system provides water to the locations that need it. This term has several contexts:

Municipal water supply systems

Water is vital to everyday life, and throughout history people have devised systems to make getting and using it more convenient. Early Rome had indoor plumbing, meaning a system of aqueducts and pipes that terminated in homes and at public wells and fountains for people to use.

Modern water supply systems get water from a variety of locations, including aquifers, lakes, rivers, wells, desalinated seawater, and other sources. The water is then purified.

The intake from these water sources usually is through a large cage-like box designed to screen out large particulate matter before it enters the system. After it is sucked in by a pumping station or allowed in by a gravity-feed system, it is usually filtered further, chlorinated, fluoridated, and then pumped either to holding locations like water towers or reservoirs, or fed directly into the user's spigot.

Municipalities typically run water supply systems, although sometimes this is the job of a regional supplier that has an independent governmental structure and taxing authority.

Once water is used, it has to go somewhere. Typically wastewater is piped away in a sewer system, which is again almost always a service provided by the same authority as the water supply, since usage of one system implies usage of the other.


City of Highland Park, Illinois: The water source is Lake Michigan. A large pipe extends out into the lake to a large concrete and metal structure on the lake bottom which acts as the intake filter. This filter screens out only the largest of debris, including wood, large rocks, etc. A set of large electric pumps in a pumphouse building on the shoreline sucks the water into a system of sand and other filters to screen out large and small debris, including fish, leaves, etc. The water then is pumped through a set of pipes where chlorine gas is added to kill bacteria, viruses, and any small multicelled organisms that manage to make it through the filters. Fluoride is then added to the water to benefit public dental health. Finally, the water is tested by various sensors to determine if it is safe to drink, and pumped to higher locations. In this case, the higher locations are water towers situated around the town. These water towers provide water pressure to prevent leaks in the system from allowing untreated and unsanitary groundwater from entering the system. Water pipes lead to almost every house and business in town, as well as to fire hydrants. Water pipes enter each building and (once inside to prevent damage from freezing weather) there is a water meter to track water usage. From there, it is piped through the building to the sinks, water heater(s), toilets, showers, garden hoses, and other usage points. Water costs about $1 per 100 cubic feet (2.8 m³).

City of Lawrence, Kansas: The water source is the Kansas River (also known as the 'Kaw'). A small dam in town provides electricity and has a water intake for the water treatment plant. Like Highland Park, above, the water is filtered, chlorinated, fluoridated, pumped to water towers, and used.

City of Cottage Grove, Oregon: The water source is a large reservoir (a specially designed, built, and maintained lake) on a mountainside above the town (which provides water pressure). The water is filtered, chlorinated, fluoridated, and delivered through town.

Side note: As late as the 1960's, the water supply pipes buried through town were made of wood, due to the large timber industry and ready availability of wood as a construction material. These were later replaced with concrete, steel, and PVC pipes. This work was delayed because it takes a lot of water to equal the cost of digging up a leaky pipe with expensive construction equipment and replace it with better pipes.

Billing and water meters

Water meters are important to determine who should pay for the water. Most water bills are divided into two parts: per month and per usage. There is a fixed cost to providing the water in the first place, and this cost is divided equally among all the system's users. There is also a cost per unit of water provided. A typical U.S. family of 4 in a suburban city will pay between $15 and $50 per month for water and sewer services.

Water meters are read by one of several methods:

  • the water customer writes down the meter reading and mails in a postcard with this info to the water department;
  • a meter reader comes to the premise and enters the meter reading into a handheld computer;
  • the meter reading is echoed on a display unit mounted to the outside of the premise, where a meter reader records them;
  • a small radio is hooked up to the meter to automatically transmit readings to corresponding receivers in handheld computers, utility vehicles or distributed collectors
  • a small computer is hooked up to the meter that can either dial out or receive automated phone calls that give the reading to a central computer system.

Most American cities are increasingly installing automated reading systems to prevent fraud, to lower ever-increasing labor and liability costs and to improve customer service and satisfaction.


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