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Special Report: Valley's Water Towers

CBS47's Rachel Azevedo takes a look at several of the most unique water towers and shows us why some cities are preserving them as historical landmarks.
We see them throughout the Central Valley... water towers dot the landscape of almost every city.

CBS47's Rachel Azevedo takes a look at several of the most unique water towers and shows us why some cities are preserving them as historical landmarks.

They are beacons, standing high in the sky, identifying small towns along the flat farm land that stretches for miles on end. Many were built a hundred years ago when cities first incorporated.

Once they were the staple of our water supply but now, water towers are becoming increasingly obsolete and expensive to maintain, and some even pose a safety risk.

Fresno has only one water tower left, but it has not held water since 1963.

Historian Roger Taylor said, "It was amazing. It would hold 250,000 gallons on water, which weighs 2,050,000 pounds, so the tank plus the water required a very substantial structure just to hold it up.

The unique Fresno landmark was built in 1894 for just $20,000 and is made of solid brick. A Chicago architect designed it after a similar water tower in Germany. Inside, the ceiling is a 47-foot high dome.

The Fresno water tower is full of historical treasures and interesting features. One area few people know about is a four foot crawl space that wraps around the entire tower. There is also balcony around outside of the tower where a scene was shot for a TV mini-series called Fresno staring Carol Burnett. That's the last time anyone was on the balcony.

The tower now showcases local art and history. Pictures inside show what it looked like when it delivered water to the city, decades ago.

Another ornate water tower stands in Kingsburg, also known as Swedish Town. The tower was built in 1911 and was retrofitted in 1985 to look like a coffee pot, complete with a handle and pour spout.

Kingsburg Mayor Bruce Blaney said, "The Swedish heritage dictates you have coffee at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., no matter how hot it is.

The city recently spent $150,000 to have it repainted, and all that money was just for aesthetics. "At this point in time, there is no water in the tower and we're not using it for anything other than basically an identity brand for Kingsburg," said Mayor Blaney.

Blaney says it could cost half a million dollars to demolish the tower but thankfully no one wants that option.

Forty miles north, the City of Madera is in a battle over what to do with it's smaller and out of service water tower. Years ago, engineers found that one of the legs is a quarter inch shorter than the others, creating a potential safety hazard.

Madera Water Operations Manager Danny Martin  said, "There's a block and a half area down there that we have to notify for evacuation if sustained winds stay above 50 mph."

The city wants to get rid of it, but the historical society wants it to stay. The tower hasn't been used for fifty years, ever since a large half million gallon tank went up in the 1960's. That tank is still used today, along with 19 ground wells.

Clovis may still be considered a water tower town. It still holds water in its two towers, though mostly in case of emergency. The Old Town Clovis water tower has been in the center of town for 100 years.

Clovis Assistant Public Utilities Director Lisa Koehn said, "I think it's pretty synonymous with the City of Clovis, so even if we decided we didn't need it anymore, it would be kind of hard to get rid of it for a historical standpoint.

The tower is one of the highest points in the city and police and fire antennas are affixed to it, as well as several police cameras.

CBS47 has a SkyView camera on the privately owned Palm Bluffs tower in North Fresno. Several other privately owned towers can be found in industrial downtown Fresno. At one time, they provided water to factories and big businesses.

While many growing cities no longer need their water towers, a few are still building them. Reedley is in the middle of a $4 million project. The massive water tower will hold 1.5 million gallons of water and will replace the two existing towers, affectionately known as the tiny towers. The city hopes the new one will save money by pumping water at night and releasing it during the day. It will also be multi-functional because the Reedley Sports Complex will be built around the tower, making it a gathering place for the community.

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Fresno, CA

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