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A peek inside the Col. Ward Pumping Station

After years of asking about it, Patrick Hammer finally gets a tour of the historic structure that pumps water to every faucet in the Queen City.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Anyone who watches the Daybreak show regularly knows that Patrick has regularly wondered about the Colonel Ward Pumping Station near Centennial Park (formerly LaSalle Park).

Well, the mystery has been revealed in this story that is part Celebrate WNY and part Unknown Story, as we take Patrick behind the scenes at this Buffalo public works wonder. 

Welcome to the Colonel Ward Pumping Station. Our tour guide, Peter Merlo, is an engineer with The City of Buffalo Water Department.

The hulking structure is a testament to the vision of then-Public Works Commissioner, Colonel Francis G. Ward. Merlo points out "at the time this was the leading the technology in the country." 

The centerpiece of the original design were five, six-story steam pumps, designed and built by Holly Manufacturing in Lockport. They still sit there, dwarfing the modern electric pumps. One of the steam pumps is kept operational, as a backup says Merlo. 

"We have the largest standing steam pumps still in existence."

Just the enormity of the facility takes a first time visitor like Patrick by surprise. 

"I thought it was like office space and desks. I had no idea it was massive infrastructure like that," Patrick said. 

But this is it, the source of every drop of water that flows in The City of Buffalo today. The water comes from an intake that you have likely seen and more than likely wondered about. The red-roofed roundhouse out in the headwaters of the river. It is a spot known as the Emerald Channel because of the hugh of the water. The color created by sunlight reflecting off of the limestone lake bed. 

Built in 1907, it still takes in 175 million gallons of water a day. It replaced the old intake, which still sits beneath the Peace Bridge today. It looks kind of like sunken ship. It was replaced because as the city grew, the runoff increased and began contaminating the water, leaving Colonel Ward in search of a cleaner source.

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