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How Do Water Towers Work?

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As infrastructure goes, water towers are pretty picturesque. Some people turn them into houses once the city no longer needs them. The designers at Pop Chart Lab have created a visual ode to New York City’s water tower taxonomy. But why exactly do we need to store our water hundreds of feet above the city?

Most water towers are pretty simple machines. Clean, treated water is pumped up into the tower, where it’s stored in a large tank that might hold a million or so gallons—enough water to run that particular city for a day. When the region needs water, water pumps utilize the pull of gravity to provide high water pressure. Because they work with gravity, they have to be taller than the buildings they’re providing water to in order to reach the highest floors. Each additional foot of height in a water tower increases water pressure by .43 pounds per square inch.

Here's a basic diagram of what a water tower system looks like:

Image Credit: Jonathan Cretton via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Keeping water high off the ground plays another important role for a city infrastructure. It allows regions to use smaller water pumps. In general, water demand for a city fluctuates throughout the day. Lots of folks are taking showers before work and school, but fewer people are running a lot of water at 3 a.m. Without a water tower, the municipality would have to buy a water pump big and powerful enough to keep up with peak demand in the mornings, which would then largely go to waste during less busy parts of the day for water usage (plus incur extra costs). Instead, municipalities can buy a pump just large enough to satisfy the region’s average water demand for the day, and let the power of the water tower take over during the times with demand that exceeds the pump’s capabilities. When water demand goes down at night, the pump can replace the water in the tower. Also, if the power goes out and the city’s water pumps fail, the water tower can keep water running smoothly for at least 24 hours.

Go inside a water tower in Edmond, Oklahoma:

And in Bloomington, Minnesota:

Look at that tank!

Screenshot via YouTube

And here's a 1-million-gallon water tank getting cleaned:

While water towers generally seem like the product of a bygone era, they’re still very much relevant today. The Louisville Water Tower in Kentucky, built in 1860, is the oldest surviving water tower in the country, and it's still in use. In New York City, millions of people still get water from water towers, though it's one of the last large cities to rely on the system. Stored on top of tall buildings, these water towers provide the pressure for water to flow even if the electricity goes off (especially during a fire).

And, of course, one cannot discount the cultural importance of the water tower:

Image Credit: Jonathunder via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Every city deserves a skyscraper-sized civic monument to its favorite crop. Or beverage decanter.

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What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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