Utilities planning for climate change
February 1, 2010

A group of utilities has prepared a report on how to plan for climate change and its effects on water supplies. While it's unclear what kinds of climate change will occur in the future, especially if new regulations and international agreements affect the human contributions to climate-altering chemicals, it's worthwhile for many utilities to consider the long-term changes that may cause them to adapt in the future. Iowa faces declining groundwater supplies, with or without the effects of climate change, and Nebraska has been engaged in a long-term struggle with Nature over significant decreases in groundwater levels. Nebraska's groundwater condition is mainly driven by access to the Ogallala Aquifer, which has been aggressively used for agricultural irrigation for the better part of a century.

It's going to flood this year
February 2, 2010

According to the National Weather Service, parts of Iowa are statistically certain to flood this spring. When this year's heavy snowfall finally melts, it's going to have to fight with frozen ground and the result is undoubtedly going to involve at least some minor flooding -- with a very good chance of major flooding in some places.

Now is the time for homeowners to take precautions like installing backup sump pumps to prevent basement flooding, and for cities to consider whether they have the right portable flood controls and portable pumping equipment to handle the floodwaters when they come.

Metal prices are all over the map
February 3, 2010

One of the challenges of the water and wastewater marketplace over the last few years has been the high volatility of metal prices. Aluminum, for instance, fell by almost two-thirds, then nearly doubled again -- all within a span of about 18 months. This instability has made it difficult to predict where prices are headed in the long term, and it's not limited to aluminum. Other metals, like copper and cast iron, have also had wildly variable pricing swings. Considering that the basic price of metal can be the main input cost for a product like a pump or a sluice gate, it has become unusually challenging to estimate the costs of products more than a few months in advance.

Haiti remains in dire need of clean water and sanitation
February 4, 2010

Now that the rescue portion of the disaster response is over, relief agencies working in Haiti are putting their emphasis on delivering food and clean water, and constructing latrines and washing stations to prevent the spread of disease. Modern public health traces its roots to the Broad Street Pump outbreak -- a cholera outbreak in a portion of London that killed more than 600 people. The cholera epidemic was initiated by the contamination of a community water pump by a single dirty diaper. A century and a half later, finding ways to protect clean water and safely carry away wastewater of all types remains one of the most important methods -- if not the single most -- of protecting public health, particularly in an emergency.

"We don't have a whole lot of room for storage"
February 5, 2010

That's the main cause for concern in eastern Iowa, where high rivers and lots of snowpack are likely to combine to create some pretty significant flooding this spring and summer. Snowfall has been well above normal and there's always the chance that a sudden warm-up could really make a mess of things.

Now is the time for communities to prepare with tools like portable dams and portable flood-control pumps. It's also a critical time to ensure that sluice and slide gates are in good working condition. The worst time to discover a broken operator or ungreased stem is in the middle of a flood.

Plant closure will cut Sioux City sewer revenues by 7%
February 8, 2010

The John Morrell meatpacking plant, which will be closing in April, sends an average of 1.1 million gallons of wastewater per day to the Sioux City wastewater plant. The closure of the plant will eliminate that flow and reduce the city's sewer-fee revenues by about $1.3 million a year, according to the Sioux City Journal. The plant is designed to handle 30 million gallons per day. Sioux City is not alone in receiving a large proportion of its wastewater flows (and revenues) from food processing; almost all of the major cities in Iowa and Nebraska receive wastewater from food-production facilities.

We can help you with municipal wastewater treatment and industrial wastewater treatment. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Legislature approves new Iowa water-quality rules
February 9, 2010

The committee of state legislators who review new administrative rules approved by state agencies has approved the water anti-degradation rules that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Commission had drafted in order to bring the state into compliance with the Federal Clean Water Act. The new rules go into effect on February 17th.

The new rules could require many municipal wastewater treatment plants in Iowa to upgrade their equipment in order to produce higher-quality effluent, and we can serve those plants with a wide range of process options. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Parts of South Dakota go without water service for two weeks
February 10, 2010

The brutal storms that have struck the Upper Midwest this winter have been more than just a nuisance -- they left a lot of people without power and water service. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in north-central South Dakota lost power and water on January 21st and didn't get power back until February 3rd. The region is still trying to restore regular power to its full service region, though the manager of the power co-op in the area expects the power repairs alone to cost millions of dollars. An estimated 14,000 people lost water service when the water system lost its electricity.

Water and wastewater systems alike depend upon reliable power service. That power can obviously be lost for weeks at a time. Engine-driven backup systems can be an enormously valuable insurance policy against the loss of power and can keep ordinary people from having to suffer without safe drinking water in a time of need. A storm that's bad enough to cause widespread power outages can also be bad enough to make it impossible to truck in temporary water supplies. The best backup system is one that can operate on its own when the weather makes travel impossible.

Omaha plans for higher sewer fees
February 11, 2010

Omaha's massive sewer-separation process is going to cause wastwater disposal fees in the city to rise -- and a story in the Omaha World-Herald suggests there's some concern that the rise will be enough to cause concern for economic-development officials who want to attract industrial development to the city. Municipal utility infrastructures have been under-invested in most communities for a long time, and Omaha faces the additional burden of a Federally-mandated $1.5 billion sewer project.

We have pump stations, screening equipment, and water-control gates of all sorts available to help communities manage their wastewater, and our emphasis on reliable products means that many of these items have very low life-cycle costs. Contact us with your questions and we'll be happy to help.

Join us at the Iowa Rural Water Association convention next week
February 12, 2010

We will be exhibiting at the Iowa Rural Water Association annual conference in Coralville next week, and we will be giving a presentation on preserving institutional memory in utilities on Tuesday at 1:00. This presentation offers both a framework and some practical tips for making sure that a utility can "know what it knows", in a sense. With so many water operators reaching retirement and leaving the industry, there is a considerable transfer of knowledge that will need to take place to keep America's water utilities operating reliably. Most places probably haven't invested enough in making the transfer, and it's going to be costly to wait.

Winter storms serve as a reminder of the need for backup power
February 15, 2010

After yet another snowstorm, it's hard not to reflect on how frequently the Upper Midwest has been hit with significant winter weather this year. During one of our January storms, the Iowa DNR reported several wastewater bypass situations caused by power outages, and travel in some places was restricted due to power lines sagging across highways.

Related products: Wastewater collection systems and treatment plants need to have backup systems for use in emergencies, including winter weather. We offer several options, including pump stations with dedicated engine backup units, portable electric generators, and portable trailer-mounted lift stations. Follow any of those links for more details or send us your questions and we'll be happy to help.

A fascinating debate: Should Chicago disinfect its wastewater?
February 16, 2010

A debate is underway about whether Chicago should disinfect its treated wastewater before returning it to the Chicago River. According to the Chicago Tribune, the city is the only major one in the United States that doesn't disinfect its effluent. Considerations about whether to do so now involve calculations of the environmental impact that additional treatment would have -- and the wastewater agency thinks that disinfection would cost more and create more environmental damage than it would solve.

Wastewater disinfection is heavily dependent upon the scale of the treatment system involved. Small plants and systems can disinfect their wastewater safely and easily with options like chlorination tablets and low-flow ultraviolet disinfection units.

The long-lasting impact of civil-engineering decisions
February 17, 2010

In our presentation to the Iowa Rural Water Association conference yesterday, we noted that utilities, communities, and other institutions need to record the processes by which they come to their decisions, so that people in the future can understand why things are the way they are. We use examples like the cleaning and re-lining of century-old water systems to illustrate that decisions often have lingering effects that last much longer than we're ordinarily inclined to expect. The Omaha World-Herald today makes note of the 1959 decision that changed the route of Interstate 80 across Nebraska, freeing it from the requirement to follow the path of US Highway 30 across the state. While the two highways today run in parallel across much of central and western Nebraska, that decision a half-century ago undoubtedly did much to influence the futures of towns like Columbus, Fremont, and Central City, which are along the Highway 30 route but not along I-80. An estimated 23,000 vehicles pass by York each day on Interstate 80 -- while 4,200 pass Columbus on Highway 30.

Ottumwa still seeks help funding sewer separation
February 18, 2010

The city of Ottumwa is still looking for funding to support its efforts to separate its storm and sanitary sewers in order to comply with Federal requirements that seek to do away with combined sewer systems. The Ottumwa Courier reports that Congressman Dave Loebsack has been trying to obtain Federal funding for parts of the project, though much of the funding will still have to come from local ratepayers.

We can help you with a wide range of equipment types for CSO separation projects, including water-control gates, bypass disinfection systems, and pumps. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

More snow today, and a worse flood outlook for the spring
February 19, 2010

Even more snow is falling in a record-breaking winter for Iowa; we've now had double the normal amount of snow since January 1st, and even if not another flake of snow fell for the rest of the year, we'd still have experienced the 8th snowiest winter in history. The prospect of serious spring flooding seems to be growing by the minute, so we have to advise all of our clients and friends to be ready for the coming flooding. Whether that requires checking their sluice gates for free and unimpeded operation, checking the oil in their portable flood pumps, or making sure that their aeration basins are ready for high flows in the spring, there's lots of work to be done in advance of the almost-certain flooding.

Tough stormwater standards could arrive by 2012
February 22, 2010

According to Scientific American magazine, the EPA is planning to enact tough new regulations for stormwater management in two years, as part of an effort to reduce the amount of pollution being carried into the nation's rivers and streams due to urban runoff. Urban areas include a lot of concrete and building roofs -- impervious surfaces that prevent the ground from naturally absorbing rainfall. This effect explains why communities like Omaha and Des Moines are being ordered to separate their stormwater sewers from their sanitary sewers; the excess flows created by stormwater that gets channeled into sewer systems are so great that they overwhelm the capacity of municipal wastewater treatment plants to treat all of the incoming water. But stormwater tends to carry unique pollutants into the natural environment, like metals and petroleum products. These contaminants often require different treatment approaches than ordinary domestic wastewater. Moreover, in the Upper Midwest, stormwater runoff is an even more significant issue when it carries off excess nutrients from agricultural lands, which are often fertilized with treated swine and cattle manure. How that manure is managed has become a matter of hotly-contested debate between farmers and regulators, not to mention the municipalities and rural water systems that become involved in the water cycle as well.

Half-century restaurant closing for lack of a grease trap
February 23, 2010

Mama Lacona's, an Urbandale restaurant that has been around the Des Moines area since 1957, is likely to be closing because it can't get the financing it needs to install a grease trap to prevent its wastewater from clogging sewer lines downstream. The new grease trap would cost at least $60,000, according to the Des Moines Register, and financing options have run dry. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation Authority doesn't really have a choice, either, since it's legally required to manage wastewater flows and prevent backups and overflows. The fats, oils, and greases program managed by the WRA applies to all restaurants in the area.

Related product: While the WRA's FOG program doesn't allow individual restaurants to use enzymes or other controls to manage their grease discharges, we do offer degreasing chemicals for use in lift stations and septic systems where allowable. And when hard-to-treat pollutants reach municipal wastewater treatment plants, we can help them operate more effectively with our PTFE-coated fine-bubble diffusers, which resist fouling and perform better than ceramic discs or plain EPDM rubber diffusers.

Nebraska state senator seeks to make a point about water funding
February 24, 2010

Nebraska state senator Mark Christensen, who represents District 44 in the Unicameral, says he wants the state to refund any sales taxes generated within 2.5 miles of any stretch of water in the Republican River basin to be directed to the local natural resource district for use in water management. It's meant to duplicate what Omaha has done to fund the Qwest Center, and though Christensen doesn't think the bill will pass, he argues that water resources in his part of the state are such a high-priority economic issue that they deserve attention equal to what is paid to urban economic-development projects.

We work with communities all over Iowa and Nebraska to help make efficient use of their natural water resources, from pumps to extract the water from the ground to fluoride sensors and chlorine monitors to ensure its safety before it's delivered to the public, to the lift stations that carry wastewater away from homes and businesses, ensuring safe sanitation for all.

Investor group says big companies aren't reporting on their water risks
February 25, 2010

An investor group called Ceres, which focuses on environmental issues in business, has issued a report saying that of 100 publicly-traded companies where water is a major factor in operations, many had little or nothing to say in their disclosures about the potential effects of water quality and availability on their businesses. As Bloomberg reported the story, the main problem may actually be that no useful standards exist for reporting on water resources in the same way that standards exist for many financial risks. That probably represents a field where improvements ought to be pursued; we have previously noted the trouble posed by water shortages on a global scale, as well as on a local one in places like the Republican River basin, the Platte River valley, parts of the Corn Belt, and some of America's largest cities.

One of the ways in which water supplies can be better protected is to enhance the recycling and reuse of wastewater, which involves clarification and filtration products that we can help apply.

New flood zone maps for Cedar Rapids
February 26, 2010

Almost 2,000 properties are being moved into new flood-risk categories in Cedar Rapids in early April, thanks to revisions by FEMA. The city says that the new designations put about half of the homes and businesses into a higher-risk zone, and about half into a lower-risk zone. The city was hit by epic flooding in 2008, and the recovery effort is still underway.

In preparation for the likely spring flooding we'll see this year, homeowners should be testing their sump pumps and cities should be testing their water-control gates for ease of operation.

Past water and wastewater news updates

last revised February 2010