University District

In photos: See inside the water pumping plant that's kept Memphis hydrated since the 1930s

Located at 3941 Grandview Avenue in the University District, the James Sheahan Pumping Station opened in April 1932. It's the second oldest station in the city of Memphis.

Owned by Memphis Light, Gas and Water, the station pulls water from the Memphis Sands aquifer, filters it through nearby wells and filters, aerates and treats it before it's ready to be enjoyed by nearby residents. 

The Sheahan station can pump up to 35 million gallons of drinking water per day.

"MLGW has a system of ten water pumping stations that work together to supply drinking water to our customers every day," said Juanita Ford Boothe, acting supervisor for MGLW's water operations. 

Sheahan Water Pumping Station located near University of Memphis main campus was constructed in 1932. (Ziggy Mack.)
Sheahan Water Pumping Station located near University of Memphis main campus was built in the 1930s and still shows signs of the Cold War. (Ziggy Mack)
Tanks hold water for filtering, aeration and treatment. (Ziggy Mack)
Pumps retrieve unfiltered water from wells deep underground at Sheahan Water Pumping Station. (Ziggy Mack)
Rows of tanks hold water that's been pumped from the Memphis Sands aquifer and will be treated and aerated before being sent to customers. (Ziggy Mack)
Over 50 skilled employees in the Water Operations division of MLGW work at Sheahan. They include pump repairers, well tenders, mechanics, electricians, instrument technicians, water treatment plant operators and engineers. Employees from the Water Meter division also operate from Sheahan.

When Sheahan opened, it was powered by coal and steam. Employees had to manually load coal from rail cars into the boilers. In the 1970s, the facilities updated, and improvements included switching its high-service pumps and aerators to electricity purchased from the Tennessee Valley Authority. 

"Electricity is a more economical, reliable and environmentally friendly source of power when compared to using a natural resource, such as coal," said Ford Boothe.

Cranes that were at a time used to load and transport coal to the coal furnaces, now a defunct power source, at Sheahan Water Pumping Station. (Ziggy Mack)
Out of commission coal furnaces at Sheahan Water Pumping Station, which is now electrically-powered and largely automated. (Ziggy Mack)
Coal shafts still unused above dormant furnaces. The pumping station moved to electric power in the 1970s. (Ziggy Mack)
Today, most of the plant is electric and automated and is continuously monitored by MGLW's computer systems. 

"However, we still have a team of employees to check wells, collect samples, perform necessary maintenance and continuous repairs on aging infrastructure and oversee the
day-to-day operations at the system of water pumping stations," said Ford Boothe. 

Sheahan was also home to MLGW's Water Quality Lab until a new dedicated facility opened in 1994.

Automated machinery and control panels aids in directing water retrieval from the Memphis Sands aquifer. (Ziggy Mack)
An employee walks through the aeration area, where water is aerated and pH is balanced before its sent to customers for drinking. (Ziggy Mack)

Read more articles by Cole Bradley and Ziggy Mack.

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