A Laredo Museum Helps Educate Children From Schools, Scout Troops and Other Organizations

The Laredo Water Museum incorporates devices from a historic water plant into a wide variety of educational displays for all ages

A Laredo Museum Helps Educate Children From Schools, Scout Troops and Other Organizations

A display covers the history of the Rio Grande, source water for Laredo and other communities.

Just as in any community, the waterlines in Laredo, Texas, run underground, at least for the most part.

In one new city facility, though, they run above ground, some even overhead. And rather than water, they deliver education for visitors from students to curious adults and travelers.

Opened in May 2017, the Laredo Water Museum occupies about half the floor space in a new water division administration facility next to the city’s Jefferson Water Treatment Plant. It is one of just three water museums in Texas.

Tony Moreno, superintendent of the Water Treatment Division, says the museum is a valuable tool for educating children from schools, scout troops and other organizations. The facility tells the complete water story, from the headwaters of the Rio Grande in Colorado to the outflow from the city’s wastewater treatment system. Beyond that, it compares the quality and availability of freshwater locally to the challenges faced by people around the world.

Into the pipe

The Rio Grande is the sole source of water for Laredo and many of the U.S. and Mexican cities on its banks. The museum emphasizes that point as it focuses on conservation.

A tour of the museum begins with a walk through a tunnel-like structure built of sheet metal and resembling a 72-inch pipe on the scale of the intake pipes that deliver murky, greenish river water to the city’s two water treatment plants.

The walls of the pseudo pipeline are lined with interactive displays that show the steps followed to turn the river water into the crystal-clear product delivered to Laredo’s 260,000 residents. The displays, like many in the museum, are mounted in stubs of PVC pipe. Visitors can push a button to get more in-depth information on each step in water treatment.

After the tunnel, visitors come to a display that shows how water travels from the city’s two treatment plants through a network of pipes to homes and businesses. Here the designers made liberal use of panels, gauges and other equipment taken from a retired Laredo treatment plant that dated back to the early 20th century.

Finding a designer

Project architect Eduardo Quiroga, owner of Metaform Studio Architects in Laredo, suggested the possibility of a museum during discussions of the new administration building. Moreno shared the idea with other city leaders. Quiroga was then asked to find a consultant to work with him on the museum design.

They found Alan Krathaus, owner of CORE Design Studio in Houston. Krathaus had designed the WaterWorks Education Center in Houston, and Moreno and Quiroga led a delegation from Laredo to tour that facility. A Laredo City Council member, the city manager and the utilities director joined the entourage.

Once they received a green light to proceed with museum plans, Moreno and Quiroga invited Krathaus to Laredo to learn about its water plants and the community. On an early trip, he toured the retired water plant and was intrigued that the old equipment was still there. “He came out here several times, and he took back equipment each time,” Moreno says. “One major control panel caught his attention and he took the whole gear back in his trailer.”

That panel is now part of the museum experience where visitors can learn about their water consumption and other factors important to water conservation. It is part of a design that takes the old equipment and merges it into modern displays covering water facts, Rio Grande history and more.

Preaching conservation

Maria Romo, project specialist, who oversees day-to-day museum operation, says the majority of visitors are children in groups including classes on field trips, scout troops and extracurricular groups. Before taking responsibility for the museum, she worked in community outreach, mainly as a water conservation inspector spreading the message about using water wisely in Laredo’s arid climate.

Romo says the need to educate students about conservation is greater than ever in a growing city that depends upon the Rio Grande for freshwater. Although pollution and water volume are key concerns along the river, another challenge may prove even greater in the future.

“The worst part is that we have salt water pushing up the river,” from its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico, Romo says. When the river’s flow is down, water from the Gulf can often push far upstream. That salt water is a problem for municipal water utilities and many of the large farms that need freshwater for irrigation.

Although Romo knows the water treatment process well, visitors still ask many questions better answered by operators. That’s when it comes in handy to be next to one of Laredo’s water plants. “I tell people that if they have any questions, let me know and I’ll bring one of the operators in to answer them.”

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 1 to 5 p.m. one Saturday a month. Romo notes that the adults are often just as amazed by the displays as the children.


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