The USGS Water Science School
Have you ever had the desire to strike out on your own? Maybe you've had enough of big-city life and want to build you own town way out in the unspoiled and unpopulated countryside? You might name it Dryville, since the only part of the country that is still so desolate is probably the desert!
Well, you can't begin your new town without considering water. From the smallest town to the biggest city, there always has to be a water plan. You need to be able to get water, use it, and dispose of what you don't want.
So let's say you made the big move. You and some friends have found your (desolate) spot and have moved in. How would you develop your "Water Plan for Dryville?"
From the founding day of Dryville, you need water. Drinking water is your first priority, as well as water to bathe in, clean dishes and clothes, and to wash your hands after you've cleaned that possum you caught for supper. And, of course, a toilet will come in very, very handy. So, your first priority will be to find a SOURCE of water. The obvious source is the creek or pond nearby. Maybe you can hire a beaver to create a dam in the creek and create a lake (actually, a reservoir).
In your free time go ahead and start digging a hole in the ground for a well. If you dig deep enough you might hit the water table, where there will be standing water. You'll be able to lower a bucket down to get the available ground water. Things are starting out great -- you've already started using surface water (the creek and pond), groundwater (your well), and you've even created your own water-storage system (the reservoir). So you now have a reliable source for your water needs. Time to relax? Not yet.
Since you appointed yourself mayor Horace of Dryville, you naturally chose the best spot for your home -- on top of the hill. Great view, but it sure is a pain lugging pails of water (at over 8 pounds a gallon, your 100 gallons of water per day gets heavy in a hurry!) from the creek up the hill all day long. And now all your best buddies and neighbors are beginning to move in. Many of them are building on hills, too, so what you need now is a "water-supply distribution system" to get water to everyone's homes. The way to do this is to lay a system of pipes (which you make from clay from the creek bed) from the creek to each house.
The problem is, the houses are higher than the creek, and water does not flow uphill. Water does flow downhill, so you build a big water storage tank on a hill (hopefully at the highest point in town) and establish a water brigade to fill it full of water. You can run pipes from the storage tank down to everyone's home. The pipes go right to your faucet and you use gravity (it's free!) to get the water delivered. Works great -- just like it did in the big city you came from.
But you still have the problem of keeping the storage tank full. Lugging water up to it is no better than lugging it up to your house; so you need to find a way to pump the water from the creek uphill into the storage tank. Since Dryville doesn't have any industry to produce products to sell to the outside world to bring in money to buy things with yet, you need to build your own pump. And you can't use electricity since you haven't built a power plant yet (but you will). Can you think of a source of energy that can run your pump? A windmill could do the job, but in the desert there isn't always wind. Your creek! The water in your creek is flowing nicely -- so you build a paddlewheel in the river. The paddle spins in the creek's current and turns a rod that runs your homemade pump. Voila! You've got water being pumped uphill into your storage tank where gravity lets it flow to your homes.
Now everyone is enjoying running water in their homes. But it took a lot of work to build your water-supply plant ("Horace's Water Works"). Being mayor, you decide that the town of Dryville will be the owner of the new Dryville Water Plant and you'll charge everyone to get water delivered to their houses. Since the Water Plant is owned by Dryville, it has to respond to the needs of its citizens -- such as Mr. Milford, who overcooked his possum stew and started a fire in his kitchen. "Where was the Dryville Fire Department when I needed them!" he complains to the mayor. Very well, you add some fire hydrants to the water-supply pipes and now you are the Fire Chief as well as mayor.
Soon you start getting money from the citizens buying water from you - and that gives you an idea. You're going to write an acquaintance back home and tell him he needs to build another town down the road from Dryville. Then when your friend gets his town started, Dryville will offer to sell them water that you get from your public-supply system! You can build an aqueduct system to move water from Dryville to them. Of course, there will be a mark up to cover the cost of delivering the water -- nothing wrong with making a little profit.
One night you again sit down to a dinner of fresh-caught catfish -- don't forget to wash your hands in the water bucket after cleaning those stinky fish! And those dirty dishes, just wash them in the bucket, too. Then get rid of that smelly bucket of water -- just throw it out in the yard. But your neighbor complains about having to smell rotten fish all night, and you complain to him about the water they wash their dirty clothes in finding its way to your front step. And then there's that hole your neighbor dug for his toilet -- well, use your imagination.
It seems that there is something more to life than just getting and using water -- you need to get rid of your wastewater. You need to build a "water-return system," commonly known as a sewer network. Again, lay a network of pipes from your homes back downhill. Connect your sinks, baths, and toilets to the pipes to take away unwanted water. Run the pipes back into the creek (downstream from your water-intake pump!) and let the creek carry away your waste water.
You're happy until the Hewlett family downstream starts complaining about your raw sewage flowing in the creek beside their home. You realize you need to send the waste water from your house to some place where you can clean it up before putting it back in the creek. You build a sewage-treatment plant, run pipes from the town's houses to it, and begin treating wastewater before releasing it into Dryville Creek.
You're again happy until the first desert downpour hits. The rain flows down the hills (runoff) into Dryville's town center and suddenly you have your first flood -- more unwanted water (and the mud it carries with it) to deal with. You decide to build a set of storm drains to fix this problem. Lay some more (this time BIG) pipes through town with intakes where the water collects in low spots. Storm water will flow into these pipes and be sent on its way downhill into your creek. Another problem solved.
But when the storm hit, Dryville Creek overflowed and flooded some houses that were built on the flood plain, the flat ground alongside of the creek. You can do two things here. Look at the lay of the land and decide what parts of the creek bed will flood most often when it really rains and don't allow people to build houses there, or build a dam upstream to create a reservoir to trap storm water before it floods into town. Your reservoir can then release the water slowly over a long period of time, thus preventing floods and recharging groundwater.
You start thinking... a reservoir (you can call it a lake) above town could really serve a lot of purposes. A lake will provide a place for you to have fun -- go swimming, boating, catch catfish, and relax. You can run your water-supply intake pipes from the lake instead of from your creek, especially since the flood destroyed your water-intake pumping station. With a dam you can release only the amount of water you want into the creek below the dam, thus making sure you have just the right amount of water running in Dryville Creek at all times. A dam would even help prevent flooding downstream because you can hold extra rainfall and runoff during a storm and slowly release it afterward. You can build a bigger paddlewheel, or, better yet, construct a real hydroelectric power plant in your dam to start generating electricity! More problems solved.
You again hire the beaver that built your pond (he has his own contracting company now) to help build your dam. After the dam is built you're mighty hungry -- and you're sick of eating possum and catfish. It's time for you to open Dryville Farm and grow your own fruits and vegetables. You plow your plot of land, throw down your seeds, pop open a jar of salad dressing, and wait.
But, you're in DRYville, remember? The rainy season is over and your lettuce seeds are screaming "A drink, please!" Get yet another pump and draw water from Dryville Creek through pipes laid across your fields and let the water drip onto your crops -- your first irrigation system.
But what about your "Upper Forty" (acres of fields, that is)? This is a long way from Dryville Creek. You need to dig a water well. Dig down until you strike water, line your well with metal tubing, and put an electric pump (powered by your new hydroelectric facility up at the dam) at the bottom of the well to force water up the well. You pump the well water through long metal pipes suspended above ground on a set of big frames with wheels on the bottom. You've built your first center-pivot irrigation system. The whole contraption can extend for one-half of a mile! The system is fixed at the center (the well) and it all rolls around squirting water everywhere in a big circle using the center as a pivot. It lets you irrigate about one square mile (about 600 acres) using one well. This spray irrigation system really gets your farm going, and soon you are making a killing selling "exclusive Dryville artichokes."
The next complaint you hear is "Burgers! Dogs! Filet-O-Chicken! Sushi! I'm sick of salads! Give us some real food!!" You realize not everyone in Dryville is a vegetarian, so you open Horace's Game and Fish Ranch. You're going to grow cows, chickens, pigs, and even start farming fish.
Even a chicken needs a drink, and your son refuses to clean out the chicken pens unless you give him a hose to use. Your catfish are demanding a pond with fresh, running water to live in. So you dam a small creek for the fish pond and dig a small well to get water for the other animals. Your livestock water needs are now taken care of, and you're making more money selling Horace's Home-Grown Catfish Delights to Dryville Grocery.
With downtown Dryville so nice and dry (due to your storm sewers), residents start coming out in the evenings to socialize. And now that you're rich from selling artichokes and catfish - well, you want everyone else to KNOW you're rich from selling artichokes and catfish. You need some metal to make jewelry to impress them.
There just happens to be a nice spot west of town for a mine, so you open Horace's Mines and start digging away. You use water to remove the dirt and wash the ore, and you build furnaces and use things like acids to refine the metals. Too bad some of the water you use in the mining process ends up as wastes that would be too toxic to just put back into Dryville Creek. You have to build storage ponds to hold the wastes and special treatment plants to clean it. You also have to make sure the water from your mining storage pond doesn't seep into the ground and contaminate the underground aquifers. That means you'll have to line your storage ponds with a waterproof material, like plastic or clay.
By now the Dryville citizens are ready to really become industrious. Your neighbor Henrietta is so jealous of your new jewelry that she wants some of her own. With the hot summer coming, she sees that Dryvillites are really going to need lawn umbrellas to provide some shade. She picks out a spot near the metal mine and builds an umbrella factory. And Henrietta's neighbor Hawthorn realizes that she will need trucks to transport her finished umbrellas to the hardware store, so he builds an assembly plant to build trucks. It takes a lot of water to build umbrellas, and even more to build trucks, and the new industries become one of Dryville's largest water users. The factories could buy water from Dryville's water-supply facility, but they find they can save money by digging their own wells and building their own water-storage tanks (filled by pumping groundwater from the wells into them). Like the mines, the waste water from factories may not be very clean, so the factories build their own water-treatment plants to keep from polluting the rest of Dryville.
Houses! Ice Cream Parlors! Factories! Catfish Farms! Dryville is growing faster than the artichokes. Every new building needs electricity to keep it going. Fine then, you'll build a power plant to supply electricity. You can't expand your hydroelectric plant up at the dam -- there's only so much water that can be released by the dam to generate electricity. The next step is to build a coal or oil-burning "thermoelectric power plant." These plants burn fuel to create heat that generates steam from water to turn turbines to generate electricity.
These plants are no small potatoes -- and they use tons and tons of water. Most of the water is used to cool the power-generating equipment. They use so much water that they usually are built next to a large water body. They use a system that gets water to flow into the powerplant, cool the equipment, and then flow back out. It is easiest just to dig a canal from Dryville Creek to the power plant and lay pipe to return water from the plant back to Dryville Creek. It's really not that simple, though, because when Dryville Power runs cold water over hot equipment, the water gets hot. Putting the heated water back into Dryville Creek might not make Dryville Catfish Farms downstream of the power plant very happy, since they want to catch fresh catfish, not parboiled catfish. So, Dryville Power agrees to erect some huge cooling towers to cool hot water via evaporation and to build storage ponds to keep hot water in until it cools back to normal creek temperatures. Then, they either reuse the pond water again to cool equipment or send it on its way downstream.
Now with your neighbors wearing jewelry that they bought from the money they made from selling umbrellas and trucks, you decide you need to make more money so you can impress them even more. Well, all of those workers at the truck and umbrella factories need to eat lunch, and they need their trucks washed, so you build your first commercial venture: Happy Horace's Burger and Car Wash. Water use here is similar to water use in your homes - water for drinking, washing dishes (and trucks), and for toilets. You don't use near as much water as the truck factory, so you find it more economical to just buy your water from the Dryville Water Department than to dig your own well. Yep, more running of intake and outflow pipes (you should have built a pipe factory - you'd really be rich).
Well, Happy Horace's Burgers really "upset the apple cart." Ezmerelda wanted to build a pizza joint next, but there wasn't enough electricity to supply it. The solution to this is to "Go Nuclear!" You buy up that land way out west of Dryville and build Horace's Nuclear Power Plant. The equipment in nuclear plant gets hot, so again you need a lot of water. You again cool the used water by putting it through tremendous cooling towers that look like huge, round chimneys. Hot water is sprayed inside the tower and is cooled by the surrounding air. The joke around the plant is that it is a great way to let off steam.
Finally, you realize your Dryville has grown up. You have homeowners using water for their own DOMESTIC uses; you have a WATER-SUPPLY system to deliver water all over town to houses and businesses; your WASTEWATER TREATMENT facility cleans up used water; you have water being used in thriving umbrella and truck INDUSTRIES; your LIVESTOCK are mooing and clucking happily; you are using water to IRRIGATE your crops; you're MINing metals to create jewelry; Dryville's kids are downing burgers and fries from successful COMMERCIAL establishments; and your hydroelectric and thermoelectric POWER plants send electricity to all who need it.
But, still you're not satisfied and you know why. Dryville is too big!!!! This isn't a little town anymore -- you've now built a big city just like the one you left in the first place. You make a decision to leave Dryville and find some nice desolate spot to start building a new town. This time you're not going to let it get too big and crowded, and THIS time you're going to call it Horaceville -- you figure "How many people will ever move to a town called Horaceville?"