Water Tank Decommissioning: If This Tank Could Talk

As a community’s water storage needs change and older water tanks are removed from service, it’s important to take steps to ensure safety.

If this tank could talk, it might tell how it was built, or the lives of people who built it. The community it served for so many years, or the time the city decorated it with lights for Christmas. The many inspections and maintenance work it has endured, or about the time the city decided to start using it as a billboard. But probably, it would tell about its existence after its services were no longer needed, because those times were the most dramatic.

Erika Henderson

Erika Henderson

It all started when the city decided to build a new tank with a greater capacity for their growing needs. Unfortunately, they were not told of the many modifications that could have been made to their existing tank. They could have modified the tank to a greater capacity saving the tank and money; instead, the tank was taken out of service and a new one was built. The old tank was left abandoned, and neglect lead to corrosion that ate away parts of the metal shell leaving holes and exposed thinning metal. Soon, the birds found the openings and began nesting in the tank. The feces of the birds corroded the steel it touched at an even faster rate than before, and the attachments began to detach and fall to the bottom of the tank. It became an eerie sight and many teenagers, desperate to prove their lack of fear, often made bets and climbed the deteriorated tank. Others climbed the tank to display their artwork and express their rebellious thoughts. A fence did surround the tank, but it was easily climbed by stepping on a tree stump nearby, and no lockable ladder guard or security cameras were attached.

Out of service elevated water tank

Out of service elevated water tank

On one particular night, as gloom set in around the tank, its status was changed forever. A group of teenagers had been out driving and looking for some entertainment when they spotted the dismal water tank. Still being a magnificent sight to withhold, they pulled in and parked beside it to get a better look. The deterioration was evident. The peeling paint and poison ivy overgrowth gave it a mystifying appeal that seemed to enchant creative, adventure-seeking, teenagers. They began daring each other to climb the tank, until the youngest of them accepted the bet for ten dollars. Wanting to prove to the group that he was the bravest and most fearless of them all, he quickly began climbing without hesitation. With each step he took, his heart beat faster, and his hands began to shake. He knew he was doing something risky and foolish, but he had made his decision and could not back down now.  Just as his hand reached the top rung of the ladder, he exhaled with relief and waved to his friends below. In that instant, the ladder beneath his feet disconnected from the finial ball. He scrambled in a panic to grab hold something as he, the ladder, and the finial ball tumbled to the ground. The boy fell to his death that day, and the water tank was finally laid to rest as the city was ordered to dismantle it. A life was lost, and much heartache and sorrow was felt as a result of not mothballing or laying-up the tank properly. It could have all been prevented.