Now the Pacific turns stormy
September 1, 2009

The Atlantic hurricane season has been off to a noisy start, and now the Pacific is churning out storms, with Hurricane Jimena reaching category 4 status. It's headed for the Baja California peninsula of Mexico, with a good chance that it'll end up as a tropical depression over Phoenix by the weekend. One might imagine that the growing number of Phoenix-area homeowners who have been installing basements would be taking a careful look at their sump pumps now to make sure that they'll work.

EPA opens comments on aircraft de-icing
September 2, 2009

The EPA has opened up a comment period on proposed rules for managing the water from aircraft deicing. The proposed rule would require that airports with more than 1,000 annual jet departures (or 10,000 total departures) collect and treat the water that runs off from deicing operations. For reference, the Lincoln Municipal Airport has had more than 38,000 flight operations to date this year, while the Central Nebraska Regional Airport at Grand Island serves about a thousand flights a month. The EPA says that the new standards could reduce pollutant discharges by 40 million pounds per year, at a cost of about $2.25 per pound. Our experience in aircraft deicing operations and related water treatment has been an outgrowth of our work in the general stormwater management field, including work with stainless steel gates for managing and controlling the water runoff and geomembrane liners for impoundment lagoons, though we have also assisted airports with portable pumps for deicing operations. Airports and operations teams who could use our expert knowledge and experience may certainly feel free to contact us for information.

A record corn crop is possible
September 3, 2009

Nebraska is expected to approach or even exceed records for corn production this year, and it's expected to be a very good year for corn in Iowa as well, despite unusually cool temperatures that have stunted corn maturation. Corn production is one of the most important industries affecting water quality in Iowa and Nebraska, where water quality is directly affected by the use of fertilizers and water use is heavily driven (in Nebraska, at least) by corn irrigation. We are especially attuned to the effects that runoff has on non-point-source pollution, which has a major impact on municipal drinking-water quality in several of our larger metropolitan areas, like Des Moines, Omaha, and Cedar Rapids, which draw their water from surface or surface-influenced water supplies.

Water and H1N1 flu
September 4, 2009

A public meeting was held in Omaha yesterday to discuss how schools and families can deal with flu outbreaks. The CDC says that the Midwest has generally avoided widespread H1N1 infections, but it's reported as "widespread" in the Southeast, and its effects on schools in Europe has also been noticed. Even if this particular flu outbreak turns out not to be especially incapacitating, it would be wise for many organizations -- especially essential public services like municipal water services and wastewater-treatment systems -- to evaluate how they can ensure continuity of service in case of a serious and debilitating outbreak, whether of flu or anything else.

We will be presenting a course in institutional memory at the Nebraska fall conference in Kearney this November, to help organizations figure out how to ensure that they can retain their most valuable knowledge and skills, even if individuals aren't able to be at the plant. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Happy Labor Day
August 7, 2009

Flag of the United States

We are closed today due to the Labor Day holiday. As always, in an emergency, you can reach us via our emergency paging service. If you have other questions, or if it is not an emergency, as always you may call us at 515-223-4144 or use our online contact form to send your questions. We wish you a happy holiday.

Burlington fights a riverside sewer leak
September 8, 2009

The city of Burlington, Iowa, is waiting for river levels to drop on the Mississippi River so they can repair a leak in a sewer line in a nearly-inaccessible location. It's estimated at 200 gallons per minute, which is a tiny fraction of the total flows past the town at the same location -- about 42,000 cubic feet per second, or almost 19,000,000 gallons per minute. The resulting dilution is far more than enough to mitigate any serious environmental damage, though it's about the amount one could put through a 3" portable pump.

The people who value clean water are the ones who don't have it
September 9, 2009

A mobile-home park just south of Iowa City is facing new state scrutiny after exceeding pollutant limits from its wastewater-treatment plant. The residents complain of odors and other problems that are eroding their neighborhood property values and quality of life. As one of the essential but mostly silent mechanisms of modern life, good municipal wastewater treatment is the kind of thing most people don't notice or appreciate until it's not available.

Nebraska DHHS seeks comments on new coliform rules
September 10, 2009

The Department of Health and Human Services is accepting comments until September 30th on new rules required under the EPA's ground water rule. Nebraska water systems using ground water (rather than surface water or surface-influenced water) will be required to increase monitoring for coliform and increase treatment as necessary.

We help municipal water systems with clean-water pumping and monitoring, in addition to treatment. We offer particle counters and turbidimeters, among other monitors. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Davenport assesses sewer-collapse problems
September 11, 2009

The new public-works director in Davenport, Iowa, is promising to issue a plan by Thanksgiving to deal with more than 100 collapsed segments of sewer across the city. The repairs are expected to cost more than $100,000,000, and that's simply beyond the reach of the city's $155,000,000 annual budget. Repairing the existing sewers could be a 20-year project.

We help communities in Iowa and Nebraska with water-control gates for sewer systems, as well as wet-gas hydrogen sulfide monitors for measuring toxic gases in and around sewer lines. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Hot contest over Davenport sewer construction project
September 14, 2009

The Davenport City Council is evaluating an $8.2 million bid proposal for the construction of a major sewer project in light of public protests and official objections to the bid. Many public bids are not necessarily awarded to the lowest bidder, but are modified with language that refers either to the "lowest responsible bidder" or to the "lowest responsible bid in the best interests of the city", since substantive objections to the lowest bid are occasionally merited. Engineers often find that these kinds of disputes can be avoided by pre-qualifying bidders and establishing stringent specification requirements prior to the bid opening, since a low bidder whose quotation is passed over may have cause to sue if its bid is declined.

Water testing for Nebraska's private-well owners
September 15, 2009

Nebraskans who get their water from private wells can take samples of that water to the Husker Harvest Days event in Grand Island this week for free testing by the state's Department of Health and Human Services. The DHHS will test for nitrates, which are often the result of agricultural runoff and which can be especially hazardous to the health of young children. Nitrate problems have driven many Iowans to sign up for the state's widespread network of rural-water systems, and more rural-water systems are being deployed in Nebraska all the time, as well.

We help well owners keep their water safe with chlorination tablets and we help rural-water systems boost their water pressure with packaged systems. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Clean water matters -- and if celebrity attention helps, we won't turn it down
September 16, 2009

Actor Matt Damon is working to draw attention to a water charity in which he is closely involved, called Their focus is on improving access to clean water and improved sanitation for the large portion of the world's population (perhaps a billion people) that still doesn't have access to those essential services. It's often hard to quantify just how valuable municipal water and wastewater services are to communities in the United States, because we see them as baseline -- but it's hard to imagine how modern life could go on if those services were gone. And that might help us appreciate how much they are needed in other parts of the world.

Wastewater is drinking water's less-sexy but equally-important cousin
September 17, 2009

An interesting video posted to YouTube by a Canadian volunteer from Engineers Without Borders gets into a worthwhile rant about how difficult it is to draw attention to the importance of reliable sanitary service for disposing of wastewater. As the engineer in the video points out, clean drinking water is an easily-sold proposition -- but you can't have clean drinking water without providing adequate sanitary service, too. But, unfortunately, "wastewater" and "sewage" are dirty words (in more than one sense), and nobody likes to hear about them. That's too bad, considering how much work remains to be done around the globe to bring clean water to every place it's needed. Even in developed nations like the US, the main threat to clean drinking water supplies is most often improperly-disposed waste -- though in the US, we've gotten quite good at handling domestic wastewater, leaving agricultural and industrial wastewater treatment as bigger challenges.

EPA recommendations for operating water and wastewater plants in a pandemic
September 18, 2009

The EPA has issued a number of advisories and guidelines for dealing with a pandemic (for now, pandemic flu is the main concern), because a major outbreak could put serious strain on the human resources necessary to keep many water and wastewater plants in operation. Yet, as essential public services, these plants simply cannot afford to shut down, even if they experience 50% staff absences due to illness. The recommendations include advice to have a strategy in place for public communication, even if normal chains of communication are disrupted (a subject we discussed in our presentation on media relations for the water industry to the Nebraska AWWA state convention last year), and to have adequate documentation for ensuring that the work can still be done, even if the usual staff members aren't there (the subject of one of our presentations at this year's Nebraska AWWA state convention).

The wastewater sector may have a part to play in mitigating the spread of viral pandemics, through chlorination, ultraviolet disinfection, and anaerobic digestion, all of which are subjects in which we have some experience. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Toronto faces multi-million-dollar fines for sewage overflows
September 21, 2009

Canada's largest city could face multi-million-dollar fines for allowing untreated wastewater to spill into Lake Ontario back in 2006. As with most overflow events, the 2006 incident was the result of heavy rainfall that overwhelmed the capacity of the municipal wastewater-treatment plant, but it was made worse when plant staff apparently forgot to reinstate normal controls to keep the sewage from bypassing the plant once conditions returned to normal. In most overflow situations, the inflow of rainwater is sufficient to dilute the sewage down to contamination levels that are more or less safe for the environment -- but they are still carefully regulated and monitored.

We offer several methods of wastewater disinfection that can be used to scale up treatment capacity in case of emergencies, including ultraviolet disinfection and tablet-style chlorination. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Massive flooding causes disaster all around Atlanta
September 22, 2009

Flooding in the Atlanta region has covered roads and overwhelmed pump stations for both water and wastewater services in some communities. As many as 15 inches of rain have fallen in some places since Friday, which is quite simply a devastating total. There will undoubtedly be unusual demand for flood-cleanup pumps throughout Georgia in the coming days as people grapple with flooded basements and sewage backup problems.

Who gets Nebraska's irrigation water?
September 23, 2009

Public meetings in Nebraska are revealing a serious problem for the state: It needs to reduce the amount of water taken from the Republican River so that it can comply with legal obligations to send some of that water downstream to Kansas, but cutting back on irrigation could hurt the farm economy, which in turn could seriously harm even the non-farming economy. About a third of all Nebraska cropland depends on irrigation. This means that the stakes are very high for those farmers who rely on irrigation to ensure that the inevitable regulations to come are shaped in ways that protect their interests.

We serve the agricultural sector with a wide range of pumps and other products. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

The LA River: A case study in civil-works permanence and changing sensibilities
September 24, 2009

The Los Angeles River is mostly a man-made project. The river, which at one time flowed unpredictably all over the Los Angeles region, was formalized and forced into concrete channels after floods early in the 20th Century led to death and destruction. The US Army Corps of Engineers undertook a multi-decade project to control the flow of the river and stabilize it so that occasional high-flow periods didn't disrupt life in the city. But the vast stretches of concrete that seemed modern and progressive in the 1930s and 1940s have attracted vocal opponents today; these people want the river naturalized in ways that would add vegetation and trees, and turn the river into a habitat to be used by people for canoeing and other recreational uses. The city is undertaking a master revitalization plan to take the river in that more natural direction, which goes to show not only how public tastes and perceptions can change over time (after all, in the 1930s, the river was a killer enemy to be contained, not a recreational opportunity), but also how permanent many civil-works projects can be. The man-made river remains, a remnant of a time when the Dow Jones Industrial Average included names like Nash Kelvinator and Woolworth. If projects being designed today last as long, perhaps they will be changed to meet shifts in public tastes in 2078.

We can help you with stormwater-control products like flap gates and pump stations. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Water on the Moon
September 25, 2009

There's a lot of excitement buzzing about the discovery that the Moon probably contains water. That, obviously, would be a scientific discovery that runs contrary to everything we've thought for decades. The excitement over such a discovery is amplified several times over because it means that the Moon contains an element that we believe to be essential to all forms of life. If water can be extracted from the Moon, even as ice that is then melted to provide for human consumption, it could make manned outposts and missions to places like Mars far more feasible. Water can be (and is) regularly re-used throughout nature as well as by civilized societies, but it's extremely heavy by comparison with many other needs -- so if it could be taken from the Moon rather than carried along, it could improve the prospects for future missions. Water ice has also been found on Mars, which makes it possible that similar missions could reach farther out into the solar system. Of course, our excitement over the discovery of extraterrestrial water shouldn't allow us to forget that 1.1 billion people here on Earth have no clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation. Fortunately, some of the tools and engineering innovations used to deliver safe water in space can also be applied on Earth and are finding increasing application here.

Illegal sump pumps cost Plainview (Neb.) more than $10,000
September 28, 2009

The EPA has come down on Plainview, Nebraska, for failure to comply with their Federal permit to discharge wastewater, known technically as a NPDES permit. The EPA is assessing a $15,000 civil penalty for failure to meet nitrogen and ammonia limits at the city's wastewater lagoon. The city is also being ordered to spend almost $11,000 on a public education campaign to get people to fix their sump pump connections so that they don't discharge into the city's sanitary sewer system. Many communities face the problem of illegal sump pump connections to sanitary sewer lines, but they're difficult to police. Those connections tend to overload wastewater plants, since heavy rainfall ends up flowing to the plant rather than simply percolating into the ground around those houses. Heavy rainfall can quadruple inflows to some wastewater plants.

We can help you with ammonia monitors and lagoon liners, as well as many other products for municipal wastewater treatment. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Nebraska keeps fighting over fluoride
September 29, 2009

After the state of Nebraska mandated widespread public votes about public-water fluoridation last year, a large number of communities voted down those proposals. That issue, however, is coming back in a few communities which are re-voting on the issue. Fluoridation occurs naturally in many water sources, and it has been shown to deliver extremely effective protection for teeth at very low cost. After decades of practical use, the safe levels for fluoridation are well known, and the incidental risks to health from overexposure can be minimized through effective fluoride monitoring.

Boil order for parts of Dallas County, Iowa
September 30, 2009

The Xenia Rural Water District has issued a boil order for some of its customers in Dallas County along Ashworth Road and Hickory Hollow Road just to the west of Ashworth and I-80 after a contractor broke a water main. The boil order means that customers there will need to boil their water for at least one minute before use. Incidents like these represent an inconvenience but do not have to result in serious threats to health -- however, they may help us to appreciate the value of fresh drinking water supplies, which remain out of reach for a billion people around the world.

Past water and wastewater news updates

last revised September 2009