Anyone traveling east down Interstate 195 towards New Bedford knows they are almost home when they spot the red-and-white checkerboard design that is part of the iconic water tank that has towered over Hathaway Road for decades.

Your humble correspondent was under the impression the tank held an emergency water supply in the event delivery from the reservoir was disrupted. The tank plays a more significant role than a giant water keg ripe for tapping.

The Department of Public Infrastructure said the tank, installed in 1948, is a riveted steel elevated water storage tank that measures 112 feet in height and 40 feet in width. It has a capacity of 350,000 gallons and an overflow elevation of 277.23 feet mean sea level. That's one tall drink of water by anyone's standards.

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DPI said water is constantly flowing through the tank. The Durfee Street Pump Station pumps 1,600 gallons per minute into the tank, and a high flow/fire pump another 3,000 gallons per minute. The Durfee Street Pump Station is fed water from the High Hill Reservoir.

DPI said the tank "services the Hathaway Road High Service Area (HSA) generally located south of Hathaway Road, east of the Dartmouth town line, north of Buttonwood Park, and west of Shawmut Avenue and New Bedford High School."

Red and white water tower in New Bedford, Massachusetts
Barry Richard/Townsquare Media

DPI said the tank was "originally constructed to provide adequate pressures to customers at higher ground elevations in the city."

Due to its proximity to the New Bedford Regional Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration requires the tank to be painted red and white. The tank was painted last in 2000 at the cost of $600,000. DPI said it would cost roughly $1 million to paint the tower in today's dollars.

Red and white water tower in New Bedford, Massachusetts
Barry Richard/Townsquare Media

The tank is visually inspected each month and structurally inspected every five years.

There, in a nutshell, is the history and the purpose of the red-and-white checkerboard water tower on Hathaway Road. I bet you'll see it a bit differently next time you look up as you drive past it on I-195 while coming home from somewhere. I know I will.

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