What should residents do when wildfires approach?
August 2, 2010

Australian officials are trying to figure out what to tell residents to do when wildfires happen again. They're reviewing that guidance after a report on the response to fires in 2009 that killed 173 people -- an extraordinary number for a wealthy nation like Australia. The recommendations in the commission report include advice to reconsider how people are told to protect themselves and their property if they choose to stay and fight a wildfire rather than evacuate. It's been a quieter-than-average year for wildfires in the US, which means it's a good time to assess what strategies will work best in coming years that aren't so quiet. Portable pumps for home fire protection can provide some degree of protection when a large volume of water, as from a lake, pond, or swimming pool is nearby. But the reliability of those supplies can be limited in years of major fire activity, which can leave homeowners inadequately prepared to protect their property -- and can put them at great risk if the water runs out as a fire intensifies. But the drive to protect one's own property can be very strong, and fire departments sometimes value the assistance of residents who can add labor capacity to the firefighting force. Having clear guidelines that are well-established in advance of fire season is the best way to prevent confusion and keep people safe.

Lake McConaughy racing back to full capacity
August 3, 2010

Nebraska's biggest lake, which only last year was the subject of serious concern as it was being drained faster than nature would replenish it, is today almost full again after almost doubling in volume over the last 12 months. Lots of new water is flowing in, and agricultural users have very little irrigation demand. The lake's high volume will be used to increase hydroelectric power production over the winter.

The radial gates used in hydroelectric production are available from Golden Harvest, whom we represent in Nebraska and Iowa alike. Golden Harvest also makes the canal gates widely used for irrigation. With a significant and growing installation base in our territory, we are pleased to be able to serve irrigation and hydroelectric customers, as well as municipal water and wastewater plants.

It was a dark and stormy morning...
August 4, 2010

With apologies to Snoopy's oft-used opening line, this morning featured an unusual and heavily-concentrated downpour that hit portions of the Des Moines metro area but left others mainly dry. The torrent led to a flash flood warning for much of Dallas County, and another for parts of Polk County, where some roads were flooded with up to 2 feet of water. A storm sewer collapsed in northwest Des Moines, creating a sizeable sinkhole.

One of the frequent causes of sewer collapses is the lack of good combination air valves that release air when a surge of water comes through the pipe, and break the vacuum created when that surge of water passes by and leaves a gap behind it. There are many other potential causes of sewer failures as well, but air valves are frequently overlooked.

Why you should use a portable dam instead of sandbags
August 5, 2010

The eastern Iowa town of Buffalo sits along the Mississippi River just south of the Quad Cities. A few days ago, it looked like Buffalo was going to suffer a serious flood as a storm surge from the massive rains that drenched northeastern Iowa (and breached the Lake Delhi dam) came down the river. They had obvious reason for concern: The floods of 2008 covered roads in town. But the expected flood of 2010 never happened. And now the community is stuck with lots of filled sandbags, and there's nothing to do with them.

Buffalo is far from being the first -- or the last -- community to have to deal with sandbag cleanup, whether they're unused or wet, moldy, and pest-ridden. A far better option is the Aqua Dam, which is a flexible, easily-deployed geomembrane tube that can be laid out and filled with water to hold back flooding just as effectively as sandbags, but with none of the health risks or the backbreaking labor. Request a quote on one of these portable dams now, before your next flooding emergency.

Pump more water, faster, using less fuel
August 6, 2010

Gorman-Rupp offers a guarantee on its portable pumps that can't be beaten: Next to any other pump of the same size, type, and horsepower, the Gorman-Rupp pump will pump more water, for a longer time, using less fuel, than the competitor. Jeff Gorman explains in a video:

With Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management cooperating with FEMA to distribute funds to eligible communities for hazard mitigation, we suspect that some communities will be looking for ways to improve their flood management and sewer bypass systems. Gorman-Rupp's engine-driven pumps can serve an essential role in helping protect those communities. Please contact us with any questions you might have.

Another remarkable night of rain
August 9, 2010

A huge complex of storms made their way through Nebraska and into Iowa last night, positively drenching the northern 2/3rds of Iowa. Preliminary storm reports included stranded cars, roads covered in two to three feet of water, and a train derailment caused by a track washout in Des Moines. There were lots of power outages, too, since the rains were accompanied by widespread 60 mph winds -- and more storms are in the forecast.

It's an event like this that makes homeowners think about getting battery-backup sump pumps and causes cities to reconsider their bypass pumping and lift station backup options.

It's the wettest year ever up to this date
August 10, 2010

It turns out that it's not just been our imaginations running wild: 2010 has been the wettest year on record from January 1st to August 9th at Des Moines -- with a lead measured in inches above 2008 and 1993, which were both catastrophic years for flooding. If it weren't to rain another drop through December 31st, this would still go down as the 18th-rainiest year on record here, but we would be crazy to think that it's going to stop now. Overnight storms dropped 6 inches of rain on some parts of southeastern Iowa. Municipal wastewater treatment plants across the state are being pushed harder than usual due to inflow and infiltration, and the rainfall has been enough to raise lagoon levels measurably.

The cause of the latest flooding
August 13, 2010

The National Weather Service has posted an analysis of the rain that fell between Sunday and early Wednesday morning, which in turn led to the incredible flooding affecting Ames right now. There are several areas, including the north side of Ames and parts just south of Colfax, which received more than 10" of rain in just 72 hours. That is more than twice the ordinary monthly total for rainfall in August in this area, all in just three days. There are widespread areas where bypass pumping operations have been put into full effect, in addition to the widespread need for flooding cleanup.

Ames has water service again
August 16, 2010

The city of Ames was able to return its water system to full service yesterday, after several days of work to repair broken water mains and some frustrations with non-compliance by residents who were told to conserve water rather than using it. The system had to be shut down on Wednesday due to a large number of water-main breaks that led to contamination concerns. Mason City lost its water service in 2008, and Des Moines experienced the same in 1993; both of those other system outages were caused by flooding that contaminated the water-treatment plants in those cities. Ames had a different cause, but roughly the same effect.

The reason it can take so long to return a municipal water system to service after an outage is that everything needs to take place in stages. First, if the plant itself has been flooded, the floodwaters have to be stopped and removed.

Second, the equipment inside the plant has to be dried out -- motors and control systems obviously cannot be run on electricity while they're still wet.

Third, the plant itself needs to be disinfected, since floodwaters contain all sorts of contaminants that make them unsafe for consumption. That process often takes another day or more, inclusive of cleaning the flood debris (like mud and silt) from the equipment and drying or replacing the electrical components that were flooded.

Fourth -- and this is the part that most people probably don't realize -- the distribution system must be disinfected. Depending upon the size of a city's distribution network, the water that comes out of a tap in a far corner of the city may have spent a number of days traveling from the plant into booster pump systems and up into elevated storage tanks (water towers), before traveling out of storage and through water mains to neighborhood distribution pipes and into the home.

Ames is (relatively) fortunate in that only the distribution system was damaged by the floods -- not the plant itself. That sped the recovery effort by at least two or three days. But an epic event like this flood and the five days Ames spent with its system in shutdown should stay at the top of customers' minds all over the country the next time a municipal water system asks for a modest rate increase to help pay for system improvements and upgrades. Ratepayers are often much too quick to bristle at the suggestion that water isn't free and that system upgrades will cost more each month. The few but difficult days that Ames spent without water should remind people of the tremendous value that municipal water brings to everyday life, at a relatively tiny cost. Ames city employees should be applauded for their efforts to bring essential service back on-line in swift fashion.

Pakistan flooding could imperil millions of children
August 17, 2010

In a shocking example of why we must never take our clean drinking water for granted, the UN says that waterborne diseases threaten the lives of 3.5 million children in Pakistan, after flooding caused a massive amount of destruction. That figure counts children alone -- not their parents nor their grandparents -- and it's a figure larger than the entire poplation of Iowa, or about twice the population of Nebraska. We have received calls from people trying to coordinate shipments of items like chlorination tablets to assist with the disinfection of the water in Pakistan, but we have encountered considerable difficulty in shipping those tablets overseas in the past, because chlorination tablets are strong oxidizers -- which means they are rarely accepted for airborne freight. If nothing else, though, the situation highlights just how indispensable a safe drinking water supply can be.

Chicago faces its worst mosquito outbreak in 20 years
August 18, 2010

Extraordinarily heavy rainfall tracking all across the Midwest, combined with a growing problem of foreclosed homes that are falling into at least mild disrepair, has created the worst mosquito outbreak in 20 years for Chicagoland, and public-health officials are trying to control the problem with the help of spray repellents. But mosquitoes are known to hatch in large numbers wherever stagnant water is found, including drainage ditches, unattended recreational pools, and ponds. We offer portable submersible pumps to help drain those stagnant bodies of water and help protect public health. Mosquitoes must have stagnant water in order for their eggs to develop into adults. If the stagnant water is removed, the mosquitoes can't spread.

Sizing a home system to improve low water pressure
August 24, 2010

We received this inquiry the other day:
I have a tri-plex that has new copper water pipes. 1" feed into the house and to each floor, 3/4" pipes for all horizontal runs and 1/2" pipes in the walls. The whirlpool tub on the first floor has 3/4" pipes all the way to the tub fixture. The water pressure is acceptable as long as only one thing is on at a time. We have two clothes washers, 3 dishwashers, 3 water heaters, 3 full kitchens and 3 full baths.

The only thing that is not new is the feed from the water meter which is a 3/4" galvanized pipe that is probably 70 years old. It's about a 50-foot run from the street to the new copper 1" feed at the house. I am sure that replacing the supply line will help but it won't solve the real problem of "too much demand" for the single 3/4" water meter.

I want to boost the system so that the issue goes away. Which pump do I need and how much will it cost me?
It's a good question, and since our home water pressure booster pumps are such a popular item, it's worth examining and sharing our comments with you. Here's our reply:
Your situation involves a number of factors that make it difficult to answer directly. If the pipe is 70 years old, there is a very good chance that contains corrosion and sediment deposits that will reduce its capacity to carry water. 3/4" pipe usually carries only a maximum of about 20 gallons per minute when brand-new, so if your demand exceeds that amount (which it easily could if you have a triplex living arrangement that includes features like a whirlpool tub), then the answer may be in installing new, larger-diameter piping rather than installing a new pump.

You're more than welcome to review our pressure-booster pump options, but be advised that those pumps start with a minimum of a 1" suction line, and some have 1.25". It's essential that you do not starve the pump by putting a pump with a 1" suction fitting on a 3/4" feed line, for instance. A pump needs to always be served by a feed line at least as large as the inlet to the pump itself.
If you have questions about pumps, water service, or anything else in our field of service, contact us and we'll be happy to help.

FEMA says Lake Delhi won't get any Federal money
August 25, 2010

FEMA has declined a request for assistance from the people trying to rebuild the Lake Delhi dam, which failed catastrophically last month. Though FEMA has nothing about the decision on its website yet, the governor has protested, calling the decision unfair. The public discussion about the decision has already turned rather interesting in eastern Iowa. Part of FEMA's decision was apparently based upon the fact that the dam was for recreational purposes and didn't serve any other use, like the production of hydroelectricity.

Hydro-electric dams often use radial gates, like the ones we supply from Golden Harvest, to control upstream water levels and ensure reliable energy production. Since the Lake Delhi dam originally did serve to produce electricity, though it was later abandoned, it's possible that the reconstruction process will include the addition of a hydroelectric component.

Gorman-Rupp says the Blue Octo is coming
August 26, 2010

The question is, just what is Blue Octo? Sign up to find out.

Algae problem cuts into Ohio town's drinking water
August 27, 2010

Algae blooms are commonly found in lagoons, ponds, and lakes in the summertime when temperature and light conditions are best for encouraging their growth. While algae are a naturally-occuring feature in lakes and other bodies of water, they can be significantly encouraged by the presence of the right set of nutrients -- particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are in particularly large supply where runoff from fertilizers is in large supply; both agricultural and lawn fertilizers tend to be major suppliers of both nutrients. One major problem with algae growth is that it can remove too much oxygen from the water. In places where surface waters like lakes are used to supply drinking-water systems, algae can also clog the filtration systems that keep the water safe -- and that's exactly what's happening in an Ohio town located on an island in Lake Erie. On a more ordinary basis, many wastewater treatment plants face challenges controlling algae in clarifiers and lagoons. To help control algae, wastewater treatment plants may wish to consider options like clarifier covers (which block light and thus prevent the algae from growing) and perforated screens (which can be very effective at removing algae from the water with high efficiency). Contact us if you're having problems with algae, and we can help you find the right solution for your system.

New Orleans inches towards comprehensive flood protection
August 30, 2010

The New York Times recently featured a story on the system of floodwalls and gates and pump stations being completed to protect low-lying New Orleans from the lakes and rivers that surround and pass through it. We represent two companies whose products are being used to protect the city today: Patterson Pump Co. supplied many of the high-flow pumps, and Golden Harvest manufactured many of the water-control gates being used. These two great American manufacturers are capable of projects both large and small, and we have had many successes with each in both Iowa and Nebraska.

Failing septic system causes Grand Island mobile-home park to shut down
August 31, 2010

A mobile-home park in Grand Island, Nebraska, has been shut down because its failing septic system has been contaminating the ground with sewage, in part due to a high water table. The owners of the park blamed a handful of residents for causing problems with the system and for initiating the complaint with the state regulatory agency that led to the decision to close. The park also had problems with uranium in its drinking-water supply, for which it had applied to the state for funding assistance a few years ago. Meanwhile, a mobile-home park near Iowa City is encountering legal troubles over the quality of its drinking water, where tests indicate that the water is probably safe to drink, despite a reported serious odor problem.

Keeping drinking-water supplies safe and clean, and properly treating small wastewater systems like lagoons and septic tanks, can be challenging for small communities on tight budgets. Fortunately, there are breakthrough technologies like small-scale ultraviolet (UV) disinfection that are now available, in addition to well-established technologies like safe chlorination tablets that can help assure the quality and safety of essential drinking-water supplies. We can help you with either type of application, so please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Past water and wastewater news updates

last revised August 2010