City completes recent construction on famed ‘UVM water tower’


Brooke Borstel

The freshly-painted water tower stands tall Sept. 3.

Workers scaling the exterior of the tower have grabbed the attention of campus onlookers in recent months. This work, which started spring 2020, came to a close Aug. 27, 2021. 

As a prominent piece of the UVM skyline, the construction on the tower has not gone unnoticed by students. This sort of maintenance occurs every 20 to 30 years, said Steve Roy, a senior engineer for the City of Burlington’s Water Resource Division.

This work has consisted of draining, sand blasting to remove paint and repainting both the inside and outside of the tower, as well as a biyearly inspection, Roy said. The maintenance is carried out by Suez Water, a private company contracted by the Water Resource Division. 

“A steel tank, with proper upkeep, can last inevitably,” he said. 

The time frame of this maintenance is situational and depends on the erosion rate of the steel tank, Roy said. 

Roy said in his role at the Water Resource Division, he has the unique privilege of watching Burlington’s water go through a full hydrologic cycle from start to finish – from distribution, use and treatment, all the way to its redistribution into Lake Champlain. 

“We’re fortunate to have Lake Champlain as a resource,” he said. 

However, Burlington’s elevation in contrast to Lake Champlain requires different structures to address pressure and redistribution of water throughout the City, Roy said.

The City-owned tower on UVM campus plays a vital role in the water distribution cycle.

Burlington has two pressure zones to combat the elevation and pressure issue. As elevation increases, water pressure decreases. 

Water needs to be transported from Lake Champlain to UVM which has an elevation of 351 feet, Roy said. 

In order to distribute water, infrastructure must be placed in different zones to properly and adequately distribute to neighborhoods, businesses, the UVM Medical Center and UVM for water usage, Roy said.

Once water reaches UVM, it’s sent through and stored in high pressure tanks, such as the tower located on UVM campus. The tower, built in 1954, contains half a million gallons of water, Roy said. 

The UVM water tower is also prominent in the social life of UVM students. Not only is it the title of UVM’s student-run satirical newspaper, The Water Tower, but it has also made its debut on Instagram as the recent focus of a 2021 meme page @uvmwatertower

The Water Resources Division is unaware of the water tower’s moment of fame, Roy said. 

“I had no idea,” he said. “I’ll have to look into that.”. 

As for the future of the water tower, students can expect to see additional construction in the coming months to replace fencing.