The Corps of Engineers has lowered a set of pneumatic crest gates at the Saylorville Reservoir, sending an extraordinary surge of water down the Des Moines River towards downtown Des Moines. The surge is expected to have only a minimal impact on the city, as long as the city's levees hold -- which they have not always done. Polk County Emergency Management is sharing photos on Facebook in an effort to show the public what the situation looks like while discouraging people from trying to see for themselves. The water at Saylorville is just three feet below record stage, and with rain in the forecast for the coming weekend, the Corps determined that a bigger release was necessary.
One of the presentations we've delivered to conferences and meetings is about the subject of institutional memory. The idea behind the discussion is that a lot of what we "know" is stuck inside our heads and never makes it to paper anywhere like it should. That practice of recording knowledge is important both as people naturally cycle into and out of an organization, but also in case something acute happens -- like a natural disaster. While we're dealing with flood waters in Des Moines, northwestern Iowa is cleaning up from an EF4 tornado that hit on June 25th. The only stronger tornado in recent memory in Iowa was the EF5 tornado that hit Parkersburg in 2008. Part of our presentation suggests finding ways to locate backup copies of critical data and records far off-site -- literally, 100 miles away or farther. There's no way to know in advance that this might be the month your facility is going to be hit by a catastrophic event; better to plan ahead than to be left confused and record-less while trying to pick up the pieces.
Our experiences with flash flooding and river flooding this year are likely to bring more attention to matters of stormwater control over the coming year or two. We have decades of experience in those kinds of applications which we bring to product selection in this field.
EPA tests oil dispersants for the Gulf of Mexico
July 8, 2010
The EPA has announced the results of its testing of the dispersant chemicals being used to mitigate the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and their latest results included the positive news that none of the chemicals tested, including the one actually being used right now, appeared to cause any "biologically significant endocrine disrupting activity". We have received lots of calls from people trying to initiate their own technological solutions to the oil problem, since we sell a wide range of pumps. Unfortunately, the biggest problem is that oil and water are so dramatically different in terms of their fluid properties that the right pump for moving sea water is radically different for the right pump for moving crude oil. Water flows best through centrifugal pumps that operate at very high speeds; oil is generally moved best by positive-displacement pumps that physically push the fluid along. When the two are mixed -- particularly in highly variable proportions, as they are in the Gulf, it's almost impossible to pump the mixture reliably.
For anyone who's wondered about the range of capabilities available from Patterson Pumps, we're pleased to share Patterson's new YouTube channel, which includes videos about the company's complete product range.
The "corporate capabilities" video shows some of the mammoth flood-control pumps that Patterson delivered on an expedited schedule to provide permanent flood protection to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
An introduction to the Gorman-Rupp self-priming pump
July 19, 2010
Gorman-Rupp has published some helpful videos explaining how a self-priming pump works. Self-priming pumps have a tremendous advantage over pumps that require external priming mechanisms (like vacuum-priming systems), in that the self-priming pump has fewer components and thus has much more reliable operation in the field.
Below is a photo of our exhibit from today's Nebraska Wastewater Operators Division meeting in Kearney. This is the 25th anniversary of NWOD, so today's events are being celebrated with a special hog roast at the end of the day.
Iowa's economy relies quite heavily upon cash generated by farming income. Thus the entire state has a vested interest in the condition of the state's main cash crops, corn and soybeans -- and it's been an extraordinary year, in the most literal sense. Many farms got their planting done comparatively early, but the heavy rains we received throughout June (three times the normal amount) were far from ideal. And now, the flooding in northeastern Iowa caused by a true deluge over the weekend and the subsequent failure of the Lake Delhi dam means that some farmers in the Maquoketa River basin have been wiped out. Overall, corn is ahead of schedule, and 50% of the state has surplus soil moisture. We will, of course, be watching with great interest to see whether additional rainfall causes more stormwater emergencies. As suppliers for several types of gates used on dams, we will also be quite interested to see whether the Lake Delhi situation leads to changes in construction standards or a new round of inspections.
The extraordinary rain storms that created the flooding that took out the Lake Delhi dam in northeastern Iowa proceeded on to the east this past weekend, where they caused disastrous flooding in Chicagoland. The problem of stormwater flooding is compounded in urban areas by the large amount of natural soil that ends up being covered by concrete, buildings, and other impermeable materials, which serves to concentrate the runoff that is otherwise more diffuse in less-densely populated areas. Chicago has faced the flooding issue for decades, and is still in the construction phase of the $4 billion Deep Tunnel project (started in 1976), which is designed to store the metropolitan area's combined sanitary and storm sewer flows when heavy rains fall, so as not to overwhelm the capacity of the municipal wastewater treatment system. Combined sewer systems have come under considerable EPA scrutiny in recent years, and are being phased out by mandates and voluntary compliance agreements in most places.
The Des Moines Register is reporting that the investigation into the failure of the Lake Delhi dam will include questions about whether the gates embedded in the dam were working correctly. Many dams use sluice gates and radial gates to manage the upstream and downstream water levels, as well as to manage hydraulic balance on the dam itself. Proper gate design, manufacture, installation, and maintenance all are required to ensure that a dam functions correctly. Damage caused to the backup crest gates at Saylorville Lake this summer means that repairs will be necessary to bring the reservoir to its full capacity.
A study by Tetra Tech commissioned by the environmental lobbying group the Natural Resources Defense Council predicts that, if everything continues according to current population and water-use trends, Nebraska will face serious water shortages by 2050, or about the time today's toddlers reach middle age. But the report also conducts an analysis based upon the potential effects of climate change, and concludes that most of the Great Plains will lose several inches per year of rainfall if the climate warms, which in turn compounds the effects of the business-as-usual predictions of shortfalls and would place Nebraska at the northern end of a belt of "extreme" water shortages, stretching all the way south to Texas. Iowa is predicted to fare much better under either scenario, but the overall picture, of course, paints a picture of interrelationships across state lines and into river basins and aquifers that will require some strategic thinking to manage wisely. While 2050 seems like a long time into the future, today's projects are often being constructed with a 30-year intended useful working life (which takes them out to 2040), and many projects under design today may not even come to fruition for another decade. Many of the projects we have been involved with since our founding in 1978 are still in operation today, signaling that changes to water availability in 2050 might very well be influenced by civil engineering work undertaken today.