As the saying goes, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” However, that has not always been the case.
Located in one of the driest deserts on the planet, and what was once a tiny town where nothing happened when incorporated in 1911, Las Vegas has turned into what is now one of the most exciting cities in the world. Without pumps, the image of Las Vegas — now a haven for fun, games, and secrets — would be as exciting as a dead cactus.
Las Vegas indeed owes its reputation and luster to pumps, but it’s not the only city that does. Communities around the world survive and flourish because of pumps.
How did Las Vegas’s metamorphosis occur? Well, when work started on the Boulder Dam (now known as the Hoover Dam) near Las Vegas in 1931, hotels and casinos began sprouting up everywhere. This was to accommodate and entertain the huge influx of young male workers. Eventually, with help from investors (legal and illicit), hotels grew and Las Vegas emerged into the tourist center and mega-resort that it is today. The ample and reliable supply of fresh water pumped in mainly from the Lake Mead Reservoir made it all possible.
In coastal cities, pumps are used to combat increasingly frequent droughts by pumping seawater to and through desalination plants that transform ocean water into viable drinking water using reverse osmosis. One such plant in San Diego processes 100 million gallons of salt water each every day, providing city residents with 50 million gallons of potable water.
In thousands of cities, towns, and communities across the country, not just those in western and southwestern deserts, pumps deliver fresh water to residential communities, businesses, and municipal facilities that make living there possible. Pumps move water from wells, reservoirs, lakes, and rivers to each city’s hotels and restaurants, swimming pools, car washes, food processing plants, offices, and factories. A series of rotodynamic pumps (mostly centrifugal) are used to fulfill the demand of these applications. Municipal water systems also provide us our lush green parks and parkways, golf courses, and water parks.
These locations often have their own pumping systems to augment the large centrifugal ones used by the city. The local ones provide control of pressure and flow. But, more importantly, pumps provide the controlled pressure and flow to fire hydrants that help keep cities safe.
In some areas, pumps don’t just supply water to cities, pumps also remove it when there is flooding. If a river overflows its banks or heavy rains submerge areas under water, pumps come to the rescue.
More than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy ripped through the U.S. Northeast in 2012 and claimed the lives of more than 120 people in places like Long Beach, New York, and others, pumps continued to work at maximum capacity to help clean up and restore the devastated areas.
Hurricane Sandy, later upgraded to Superstorm Sandy, was the deadliest, most destructive, and strongest storm of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season. It caused an estimated $70 billion in property damage and economic loss. Until Hurricanes Harvey and Maria swept through in 2017, it was the second most expensive hurricane in U.S. history. The day after the storm hit, companies deployed hundreds of skilled, OSHA-trained operators to the area and mobilized hundreds of pumps and generators to provide immediate relief.
Aside from pumping potable or stormwater, pumps also take solid waste to and through sewage treatment plants. While most waste systems are designed to transfer sewage from one point to the next, mainly by gravity, some areas require moving the wastewater from lower to higher elevations. Solids-handling pumps, often of centrifugal design, accomplish this task. Pumps also play an important role in maintaining and preserving the wastewater pipelines. Vacuum trucks with high-pressure pumps are used to unclog the lines with water jets as part of a regular maintenance procedure.
Beyond the water and sewers, pumps also power the hydraulic functions of the equipment that collects garbage, repairs roads, cleans the streets, maintain the utilities, and landscapes the parks. On most of this equipment, pumps drive hydraulic cylinders that move booms, arms, buckets, and other attachments.
In some equipment, pumps drive hydraulic motors that create rotary motion. Depending on the application, a positive displacement, centrifugal, piston, or gear pump may be used. Pumps also play a critical role in a municipality’s fire prevention. When connected to a hydrant, a truck’s onboard pump maintains and controls the volume and pressure of the water needed to fight a fire. In some cases, a tank truck, called a pumper, can move water from a natural aquatic environment and deliver it to a community that may be without hydrants. Other fire trucks are designed to pump chemical foam to smother fires.
Another municipal function that relies on pumps is street cleaning. The fleet of street sweepers that keeps cities and industrial and commercial areas clean rely on pumps as well. On-board pumps create high water pressure and flow that spray surfaces to loosen dirt and debris and control dust.
Of course, there are other city and town activities that require pumps to dispense and move fluids. For example, cars and trucks that carry people and move goods run on gasoline or diesel fuel pumped at the filling stations along city streets and roads. Car washes use pumps to keep vehicles clean and attractive. In hot-weather cities, like Phoenix, for example, water mist sprays in outdoor dining venues and other public areas to keep people cool — and even helps prevent heat stroke and heat-related health problems.
All cities may not be like Las Vegas, but one thing is certain: No city can survive without pumps.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Hydraulic Institute’s recently launched awareness campaign. Learn more by clicking here.