What Types of Cisterns are Still in Use Today?

With such a long history of use, many people assume that cisterns are an old-fashioned design only used as tourist attractions in Roman ruins. However, modern cisterns still serve important purposes in communities around the world. Even if wells or rivers supply plenty of drinking water for the residents, many areas require cisterns to support agriculture, manufacturing facilities, and industrial projects that demand a lot of fresh water. While all of these cisterns are related in their function of storing water, they’re slightly different in their specific functions and installation requirements. Explore the many types of modern cisterns you might encounter.

Residential Water Collection and Storage

In areas where the groundwater is too scarce or contaminated to drink, residential tanks and cisterns are often used to contain water tanks trucked in from a nearby supplier. Traditional cisterns funneled rainwater into a drinking water supply, but this isn’t an approved use today. Residential potable water cisterns must be tightly sealed against the elements and receive only a sanitary supply. Many older residential cisterns are installed in the basement or crawlspace of a home, creating an open pool of water just below the main floor. These cisterns aren’t appropriate for potable water storage but renovating them and adding a flexible RPE liner can turn them into valuable features for lawn and garden irrigation. You will need a pump to use any basement cistern water for washing clothes, watering the lawn, or flushing toilets. This is why above-ground and raised tanks are often preferred. If you decide to fill in and shut down a below-the-home cistern to control humidity under the floor joists, you’ll still need a liner or cover to complete the work.

Industrial Tanks and Supply Ponds

With many industrial processes requiring millions of gallons of fresh water per month, it’s no wonder that cisterns and water tanks are commonly found on these work sites. Manufacturing companies are particularly likely to invest in cisterns to ensure a stable supply of water. If on-site wells or natural water supplies can’t keep up, the facility can always turn to trucking services to supplement. In-ground cisterns and covered ponds are often preferred for these purposes due to the sheer volume needed for both short and long-term storage. If the water is essential to processing or cooling purposes, covers are recommended to prevent evaporation and loss over time.

Underground Municipal Water Supplies

Since the turn of the century, cities and towns in America and Europe alike have excavated underground to create sealed space for storing fresh drinking water. This water is often supplied by filtered flow from nearby rivers or lakes which can fluctuate throughout the year. Pumping the water into an underground cistern is the easiest way to keep it stable and control evaporation losses. However, these older cisterns often develop serious leaks that threaten their usefulness for potable water supply. Even old municipal cisterns, re-purposed for irrigation, need liners to prevent leaks from developing over time. Don’t wait until a public cistern is leaking when a timely liner addition can prevent water loss in the first place.

Above-ground Potable and Irrigation Water Storage

Above-ground, raised, water tanks and cisterns are now more common than underground fixtures in most cities and towns. Yet, these steel fixtures still develop leaks over time and require routine lining resist corrosion and to perform as desired. Potable water safe liners preserve water quality. These liners also ensure fewer complaints about odor, color, or flavor issues. Aging, above-ground cisterns are notorious for producing water quality issues that aren’t dangerous but are still off putting. Irrigation water cisterns don’t necessarily need liners to maintain high quality, but they do need them to prevent eventual leaks that dry out the system when crops need water the most.

Mining and Processing Cisterns

Many mining methods, especially hydraulic fracturing, require large amounts of water to handle various processes. Heap ponds allow valuable minerals and metals to settle out of sludge and debris, while supply cisterns for fracturing mines must hold thousands of gallons of fresh water for each operation. Cisterns are preferred to open ponds at most facilities to control the loss of water to evaporation. Since each gallon adds to the total cost of the mining operation, covered tanks and structures are worth the extra cost to control losses from wind and sun.

Cisterns vs Tanks

There is a lot of overlap between water tanks and cisterns, especially for modern usages. Many tanks are referred to as cisterns if they hold rainwater, pumped surface water, or the supply from a seasonal spring or flood. Open ponds and underground vaults may qualify as cisterns if they’re used for storing fresh water for any reason. Small water tanks may even qualify as miniature cisterns if they’re installed for residential or commercial rainwater reuse. Tanks used for holding wastewater don’t qualify as cisterns, regardless of size or style.

A 500-gallon plastic cistern for residential use is unlikely to serve any purpose on an industrial site, but the huge steel and concrete cisterns used there likely share some similar design features. All cisterns must be strong enough to hold the weight of water contained within them. Changing the height, width, and wall thickness can turn a safe cistern into a dangerous one. Failing to line a cistern as it ages will also lead to dangerous leaks and potential collapses. Choose a reliable product from BTL Liners to keep your cistern working properly for years to come, regardless of its size or purpose.


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