Heart of Louisiana: Shreveport Water Works Museum

Updated: Apr. 19, 2016 at 8:33 PM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, LA (WVUE) - - It wasn't always this easy to get clean, safe drinking water.

"The longest running pump was in use from 1900 all the way up until 1980," said Kevin Haines, tour guide at the Shreveport Water Works Museum.

Pumps began pushing water to homes and businesses in the City of Shreveport 130 years ago, and much of the equipment from those early days still exists. It's on display at the Old City Water Plant, turned state museum.

"We have some of the last remaining pumps and engines known in the world," Haines said. "A couple of the examples that we have in here, you're not going to see anywhere else except here in Shreveport. Everything else is just left the way it is. For the most part, it's all original equipment. Cross Bayou is our first source of water for the City of Shreveport."

Water was originally pumped from an adjacent bayou into giant settling basins, where sediment would fall to the bottom and the water would move on to large, round steel filters.

"These four round ones here are the original 1890 filters," said Haines. "You'd have a top layer of gravel, sand and underneath that would be a layer of activated carbon. These filters all go down to the basement floor, so they're about 15 feet tall."

A small water tower provided enough pressurized water to backwash the filters and keep them clean. Chemicals were added and the drinking water was pumped out to the city.

"Back in the early days they had a little more color to the water and they weren't guaranteed good strong pressure to their house," Haines said.

This is the second oldest waterworks plant in Louisiana. New Orleans beats this one by 50 years. But so much of the original equipment that was used for a century is still here, and some of it still works. At night when water use was lower, the pumps would turn at a certain speed. During the day, they would speed up to handle the increased demand.

"We actually had an engine running that was installed brand new in 1900 and that ran all the way up until 1980," Haines said.

A giant gas furnace generated steam that kept the pumps and the water moving.

"Just imagining standing in front of this boiler system and it radiated heat against you," Haines said. "Pre-1908, they were shoveling coal into that thing (boiler) all day long and all night long."

When the facility was retired in 1980, it was believed to be the last steam-powered municipal water plant operating in America.

"It's pretty amazing," Haines said. "You don't get to see this stuff around very much."

It's an opportunity to see just how much work goes into delivering a glass of water to your home.

For more on the Shreveport Waterworks Museum, click here.

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