WPA Today   

Water Systems



WPA Poster

The WPA Moves Water
(See Photos Below!)

     Across America, the WPA installed 16,121 miles of water lines and 24,271 miles of sewer lines.  That's enough water and sewer lines to circle the Earth over one and a half times.  SOURCE: Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946.

     Like the other infrastructure work of the WPA, water systems helped business--and housing--expand before, during, and after  the war.  People simply had more business & living choices with an expanded infrastructure.  For example, in 1948, several years after the dissolution of the WPA, Baltimore City's Deputy Engineer of the Bureau of Water Supply noted that a "36-inch main, installed in Erdman Avenue is doing 'yeoman service' in supplying hundreds of new residences and scores of business places now being erected in what was 'wide open spaces' during the WPA days."   And Carroll E. Williams--the business editor of the Baltimore Sun--added: "Below ground, WPA forces laid sewer lines that are in full use today, the result of a vast home-building program undertaken in the last two years" (Carroll E. Williams,"Underground And Street Work Of WPA Found Satisfactory," Baltimore Sun, November 21, 1948, p. 30).

     Today, we're still using much of the WPA's water system infrastructure even though these systems were not designed to last this long.  In fact, we're even using water systems that predate the WPA by several decades.  As a result, our infrastructure is starting to deteriorate; and this deterioration can be costly.  For example, in a 2009 WBALTV.com article, Baltimore City officials stated that the amount of water that leaks from Baltimore's systems could completely fill the Baltimore World Trade Center--once every day.  They also reported that there were about 5,000 water main breaks between 2004 and 2009, and one single break in April 2009 "cost the city nearly $700,000 in repairs and lost productivity."  When one considers the unemployment problem of today, it has to make you wonder why the jobless cannot be employed to do the same things the jobless were hired to do in the 1930s and 40s.  

     In any event, enjoy the photographs below, and consider how the projects you see helped America develop before, during, and after World War II.    

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Photo credits: Unless otherwise noted, all black and white photos were taken by the WPA, are in the public domain, and provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.  All color photos--unless otherwise noted--were taken by Brent McKee.  Click here for more information on photo credits, permission to use, and exhibit descriptions.  
 


Above: This is the first of three photos for a large storm water drain project in Hanlon Park, Baltimore City (Maryland WPA project #23, November 1935).


Above: The second photo for the Hanlon Park storm water drain (Maryland WPA project #23, June 1936).


Above: The third and final photo for the Hanlon Park storm water drain.  This was likely one of the more ornate storm water drains in Maryland, if not the country.  My understanding is that the structure, unfortunately, no longer exists.  (Maryland WPA project #23, September 1936).  


Above: Installing a water line in West Annapolis (Maryland WPA project #3169, April 1938).


Above: A trench digging machine, creating a trench for a water line in West Annapolis (Maryland WPA project #3169, April 1938).


Above: Building a reservoir in Elkton, Cecil County.  The description card for this photo reads: "Pouring reinforced concrete bottom slab for new twin reservoir." (Maryland WPA project #36, November 1935).


Above: Another view of the Elkton Reservoir.  The description card for this photo reads: "Erecting forms for five foot parapet wall, West Reservoir." (Maryland WPA project #36, June 1936)


Above: A plaque installed in the Elkton Reservoir wall (Maryland WPA project #36, July 1936).


Above: Constructing a sewer on West Main Street in Elkton, Cecil County (Maryland WPA project #607, February 1937).


Above: A sewage pumping station being built on the south side of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal in Chesapeake City, Cecil County (Maryland WPA project #3471, January 1939).


Above: The completed sewage pumping station in Chesapeake City (Maryland WPA project #3471, June 1939).


Above: Installing a storm water drain on 37th Street in Baltimore City (Maryland WPA project #56, November 1935).


Above: WPA workers placing rebar in the wall of the Hancock Reservoir in Washington County (Maryland WPA project #3216, May 1938).


Above: A sewer project in Eastport, near Annapolis (Maryland WPA project #3206, February 1938).


Above: Erecting a water tank in the town of Hebron, Wicomico County (Maryland WPA project #3786, April 1940).


Above: Installing a storm water drain on 34th street in Baltimore City (Maryland WPA project #7, November 1935).


Above: Constructing a reservoir in Myersville, Frederick County (Maryland WPA project #289, circa 1936).


Above: A storm drain project in Glen Burnie, Anne Arundel County (Maryland WPA project #3762-49, November 1941).


Above: A sewer project in Myersville, Frederick County (Maryland WPA project #3207, December 1937).


Above: A sewage treatment plant constructed by the WPA in Thurmont, Frederick County (Maryland WPA project #3860, May 1941).


Above: Installing water mains in Hebron, Wicomico County (Maryland WPA project #3786, May 1940).

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