Working New York: Watertanks

Working on one of the city's many watertanks.

C.J. Adonis, a foreman for Rosenwatch Tanks, says New York is the capital city of water tanks.

“Everybody always says when you talk about New York City, you talk about tanks,” he said.

City code requires any building over 80 feet tall to have a water tank for fire safety. But they’re also practical for tall buildings — buildings under six floors, a pump can sufficiently push enough water to feed the building’s sinks, toilets and showers. But any higher than six floors, it’s too much work for a pump. It would have to run all the time in order to have water ready on demand. It’s easier to pump water up to a tank and let gravity keep the pipes full.

The high demand for water tanks in the city means that rain or shine, searing heat or freezing cold, Adonis and his crew are installing and maintaining tanks. They build them by hand from cedar milled and cut to size in Rosenwatch’s workshop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

It’s incredibly hard work. Before a new tank can be installed, the crew usually has to take down the old tank. Adonis takes the lead in demolition. He’s 223 pounds of hard muscle and spends two hours a day in the gym after work. He can take down a tank with an ax or shimmy up a new, half-built tank with ease.

Another challenge is the weather.

“I remember one year on 86th Street, it was so cold,” Adonis said. “It was an emergency and we get in at six in the morning. The tank drain, we rip the tank down and I’m telling you, while we were ripping, it was like ice. Everyone was drinking coffee, drinking coffee, drinking hot chocolate.”

But Adonis actually likes the cold. He’s from Guiana originally, so even after three decades in New York, the winters and heights of the city are still novel to him.

“I love the view,” he explained. “Maybe that’s the reason why I love this job so much.”


Working New York is an ongoing series that takes a first person look at the people and jobs that keep the city humming.