Happy New Year
January 1, 2010

We welcome the new year and wish you the best in all your endeavors.

Fire-sprinkler system may have saved Valley Junction
January 4, 2010

A fire at a store called That Irish Shoppe in Valley Junction was kept under control by a sprinkler system on Sunday. Valley Junction is the original downtown area of West Des Moines, and its tightly-spaced buildings are at the same risk of rapidly-spreading fire as other downtown areas from the pre-automobile era. It happened in the Iowa towns of Maquoketa in January 2008, Lake Park in December 2008, and Paullina last month. Fire-suppression systems depend upon reliable municipal water supplies, which are often pressurized through a combination of elevated storage tanks and pressure-booster pump stations.

Did you know? Elevated storage tanks often include products like clearwell baffle curtains and duckbill check valves, both of which are used in systems to keep the water properly mixed and safely stored.

Highway sound barriers might also be pollution barriers
January 5, 2010

Research conducted by NOAA and the EPA suggests that highway sound barriers might also act as pollution barriers, trapping vehicle exhaust and other pollutants in and around the roadway, rather than letting them migrate to nearby residential and commercial areas. What would be interesting to discover is whether this causes higher levels of concentrated pollution in the stormwater runoff captured from within these barrier-enclosed highways. Since much stormwater is returned untreated to rivers and streams, the concentration of pollutants like oil and soot (which can be captured by rainfall) near roadways bounded by barriers might be higher than from most other stormwater, and may contribute to certain kinds of unanticipated environmental damage.

Related product: We offer ambient monitors for measuring outdoor air quality, capable of measuring for a variety of pollutants, including carbon monoxide, VOCs, and sulfur dioxide.

Reverse-engineering doesn't deliver the same results as original design
January 6, 2010

One of the problems we occasionally encounter is a misunderstanding that a reverse-engineered product is the same as the original product it copies. There are two very serious problems with this misunderstanding: First, a company that invests in research and development has to be able to recover some of the expenses it incurs through patents and other forms of intellectual-property protection. It took Thomas Edison 6,000 different experiments to find the most effective filament for the common light bulb. Every good innovation requires some sort of investment -- the equivalent of Edison's 6,000 filament trials. When customers accept copycat products without regard for the patented innovations that go into the original design, they contribute to an environment in which innovation isn't rewarded -- which means that it will eventually stop altogether.

The second problem has an even more direct impact on the product user than the long-term effects of violating intellectual property rights. It's quite simple: Reverse engineering overlooks important steps in the process that can lead to catastrophic failures. Consider the case of the 13-story Shanghai apartment building that toppled like a bowling pin. It was built on impossibly inadequate footings and fell when workers tried to excavate beneath the building (which had no basement foundation) to build a parking garage. It's a profoundly amateurish mistake -- the kind of mistake someone might make if they unthinkingly copied someone else's design for the building without understanding how the project would work as a whole. A first-year engineering student would know better than to excavate beneath a 13-story building with no foundation...but it seems no such thought was put into the construction in Shanghai. Certainly even less is put into the copycat, knock-off, and reverse-engineered products made in many Chinese factories in violation of patent laws and other intellectual-property protections.

We take special pride in working with companies like Gorman-Rupp, Patterson Pump Co., ATI, and Environetics, all of which have been distinguished innovators in their respective product fields. When we represent these products, we do so with confidence that their design is based upon considerable knowledge and experience -- not a cheap imitation of someone else's work.

The case for an Iowa water-management plan
January 7, 2010

The state geologist has produced a report on the Jordan Aquifer, the below-ground water supply that provides municipal water to most Iowans. The report indicates that the drawdown levels in the aquifer have been considerable near some of Iowa's largest communities, including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, and Fort Dodge. The report argues the case for a water-management plan for the state, since the possibility exists that continued demand growth could lead to challenges maintaining water supplies for some communities into coming decades.

The most unusual instance of land application in a long time
January 8, 2010

A farmer near Zwingle, Iowa, wished his wife a happy birthday just before New Year's with a "Happy Birthday" message written in liquid manure. He used an estimated 120,000 pounds of it to write the note on a snow-covered field.

We can't recommend any kind of land application of manure without a proper plan, but it's definitely an amusing human-interest story.

Frozen pipes all across Ireland
January 11, 2010

Ireland, though located farther north than most of the continental United States, has a much more moderate climate thanks to the effects of the Atlantic Ocean. Temperatures there generally don't drop below freezing, so the recent extreme winter weather there has caused tens of thousands of homes to lose water supplies due to freezing.

Haiti's biggest needs: Water, food, first aid supplies, and shelter
January 13, 2010

Former President Bill Clinton, who serves now as the UN's special envoy to Haiti, says that the country needs money to pay for those urgently-needed supplies. It's well-known that people simply cannot live for more than a few days without safe drinking water, and a disaster like an earthquake has the dual effects of disrupting normal water supplies and contaminating many of the emergency supplies upon which people may depend. Any new rainfall will carry debris into streams and rivers, which will only create the risk that diseases and illnesses will spread as people seek what water they can find from those natural sources.

The great snowmelt of 2010
January 14, 2010

Many parts of Iowa and Nebraska have received heaping helpings of snow this winter -- up to three feet cover some parts of Iowa. Today's temperatures, while not exactly balmy, have reached freezing or higher in many places, leading to at least some snowmelt. This creates a stormwater challenge for many communities. Sioux City, for instance, has undertaken a street clearing program to ensure that storm sewer inlets remain clear enough to allow the melting snow to be carried away from homes and businesses. Fortunately, most of our area appears to be safe from the imminent risk of flooding (though parts of eastern Iowa could be subject to floods over the next five days), but it only takes a brief spell of warm weather to cause a lot of potential snowmelt and trouble with ice jams.

Groundwater levels on the rise
January 15, 2010

A study by the University of Nebraska has found that groundwater levels in some aquifers in central and eastern Nebraska have risen by about a foot over the last decade, with some areas showing increases of as much as five feet. The recovery appears to be due to groundwater recharge by precipitation, marking the recovery from a prolonged and punishing drought that lasted about seven years. The overall look for the state, though, still reflects widespread declines in groundwater levels.

Product spotlight: While they aren't used for monitoring levels in deep wells, our flowmeters and level monitors are useful for tracking water levels in tanks and basins near ground level, as well as pump stations and other facilities.

New EPA administrator named
January 18, 2010

The President has announced his selection of Karl Brooks to be the regional administrator for EPA Region 7, which includes both Iowa and Nebraska. Brooks teaches history and environmental studies at the University of Kansas, and has previously been an attorney as well as head of the Idaho Conservation League. The administrator role has been vacant for more than a year.

Spencer gets $146,000 to help with sewer separation
January 19, 2010

The city of Spencer, Iowa, has received $146,000 from the EPA to help with a large and expensive sewer-separation project mandated by a consent order the city and the EPA signed in 2008. Spencer is one of about a dozen Iowa communities with a combined sewer system -- that is, one that serves both the storm sewer and the sanitary sewer. The separation of these combined sewer systems into two systems helps reduce the possibility of contamination of rivers and streams by untreated sewage that can overflow into those waterways when high flows exceed the capacity of the municipal wastewater plant. However, constructing a second sewer system in a mature community is a very expensive proposition, and several Iowa communities have fought their sewer-separation mandates to varying degrees.

We can provide everything from water-control gates to pump stations to bar screens for systems that require sewer separation. Just let us know what you need and we'll be happy to help.

Is enough oxygen getting to Iowa's lakes and ponds this year?
January 20, 2010

The Iowa DNR has noted that the very cold winter we've had this year -- including a series of powerful snowstorms and this week's dramatic ice storm -- appears to be starving many Iowa lakes and ponds of oxygen. While it's well-known that the solubility of dissolved oxygen rises as water temperatures fall, there has to be some source of dissolved oxygen in the water to begin with. The winter weather has covered lakes and ponds with ice, and there's been so much of it that aquatic plants aren't getting enough sunlight to create that oxygen, and there's no way for the wind and currents to sweep more oxygen into the water bodies as they normally would. As a result, DO levels are dropping to late-winter levels even though we probably have at least 6 to 9 weeks of winter weather left to go.

Wastewater focus: Dissolved oxygen is one of the key metrics used to determine the quality of wastewater effluent being returned to rivers and streams. We have long represented ATI's quality dissolved-oxygen monitors for measuring DO levels in treated wastewater, and we've just received the excellent news that Stamford Scientific's PTFE-coated aeration diffusers have been approved for patent protection. The PTFE-coated diffusers represent one of the easiest, most trouble-free methods of adding oxygen to wastewater at a minimum of maintenance cost and effort.

Remsen recognized for source-water protection
January 21, 2010

The Remsen (Iowa) Municipal Utilities will be recognized by the American Water Works Association with an Exemplary Source Water Protection Award at the annual convention this summer. Congratulations to Remsen for this honor.

Power outages and flooding after the ice storm
January 22, 2010

The ice storm that sucker-punched much of Iowa on Wednesday continues to have lingering effects, not the least of which are power outages and the potential for some damaging flooding. The Polk County Emergency Management Agency has indicated that snowmelt (due to just-above-freezing temperatures) and ice melt are likely to cause at least some localized flooding, particularly in places where storm sewers become blocked by debris and ice. Anyone who's been outside has undoubtedly noticed the large amount of debris -- particularly tree branches and limbs -- that has fallen as a result of the ice, and that's going to contribute to the trouble of channeling snowmelt away from populated areas.

Product note: We offer a wide range of solutions for managing stormwater, and it's worth noting as well that we have solutions for keeping pump stations in service when the power goes out. Power outages like the ones currently affecting parts of Iowa usually are caused by thunderstorms and ice storms, which also create lots of additional flow for those pump stations to handle. Having an engine-driven backup at a pump station or a portable lift station for emergency service can make all the difference to keeping a municipal wastewater infrastructure working in times of weather trouble.

Renewable-fuels lobbyists want a bigger ethanol mandate in Iowa
January 25, 2010

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association has announced a legislative push for a 10% ethanol mandate for gasoline sold in the state. Iowa is the largest ethanol-production state in the country, with Nebraska in either second or third place (depending on whether one is counting capacity or actual production). Both states are also heavy producers of biodiesel, generally from soybeans. The production of those fuels has a measurable effect on water usage in both states, since the production and refining of biofuels requires large volumes of water. They are major economic factors in both states, as well.

Related products: We offer a number of products used in ethanol and biodiesel production facilities, including pumps for clean water, flowmeters, and aeration systems for processing liquid byproducts.

Haiti's disaster illustrates just how important modern waterworks really are
January 26, 2010

With Port-au-Prince devastated by a powerful earthquake, a million people are in a state of tremendous uncertainty: Can they rebuild their city or should they try to leave for someplace else? A quarter of a million people have already been moved to other locations around Haiti. One of the main problems now is getting reliable distribution of food and clean water to the people -- and providing reliable sanitation to prevent outbreaks of everything from dysentery to tuberculosis. The public in many rich nations tends to take reliable clean water and safe sanitation for granted, but municipal water and wastewater infrastructures take lots of time and money to build and maintain. And compounding the problems of health and sanitation, having a large population without adequate water pressure available leads to a very high risk of catastrophic fires, whether in the debris of the city or in temporary camps. Big fires can only be fought with big, functioning water systems, which makes any fire in a refugee camp extremely dangerous. The reconstruction period will also be extremely dangerous without a reliable water system -- just as it was for Chicago, which nearly burned to the ground a second time after the great fire of 1871.

Iowa DNR to host meetings over new stream standards
January 27, 2010

The Iowa DNR will hold six meetings in February around the state (at Atlantic, Clear Lake, Des Moines, Independence, Spencer, and Washington) about the revised stream assessments and water-quality standards that are being rolled out to comply with the state's agreement to enforce the Clean Water Act. The DNR is evaluating all of the state's streams to determine what they're being used for and to what levels they need to be protected to enhance that use. These assessments are of significant interest to Iowa municipal wastewater treatment plants, since they are regulated in part based on the quality of the waters receiving their effluent.

EPA orders LaFarge to add $170 million in air-pollution control equipment
January 28, 2010

The EPA has ordered LaFarge North America to install $170 million in new air-pollution control equipment at its operating facilities in the US, including their plant at Buffalo, Iowa (just outside Davenport). The EPA targeted LaFarge's emissions of nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, and in addition to the requirements for new equipment, imposed a $5 million civil penalty against the company, of which Iowa will receive $135,000.

Tools for monitoring air pollution: We offer fixed-point gas detectors for sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, as well as ambient air-quality monitors for sulfur dioxide and other contaminants, both as part of our commitment to supplying a wide range of pollution-control equipment and instruments to communities and industries in Iowa and Nebraska.

A debate over taxing Omaha's sewers
January 29, 2010

The city of Omaha is planning to separate its storm sewers from its sanitary sewers in a massive and very expensive effort to comply with Federal regulations. The project is so expensive (it's currently estimated at $1.5 billion) that a debate has now picked up about whether to exempt the project from sales taxes, which are projected at $327 million. On one side of the debate are those who say that local government would benefit from the additional tax revenues; on the other are those who say that the Federally-mandated project is already sufficiently expensive and shouldn't be made additionally costly because of local taxation.

Omaha's challenges with sewer separation are not unique, even in our area. About a dozen other communities in Iowa and Nebraska face different levels of the same expense and complication in getting their sewers separated as well. They will need everything from pump stations to flap gates, from bar screens to disinfection systems. We welcome any questions or inquiries that might accompany any of those projects.

Past water and wastewater news updates

last revised January 2010