Water towers and community identity
July 1, 2009

The central Nebraska community of Elba has a decision to make: Whether to tear down a 73-year-old water tower that no longer serves any purpose from an engineering standpoint. The town has added a new tank which makes the old water tower obsolete, but some residents see the tower as a sign of the town's identity. Some communities take their water towers the extra mile -- like Adair, Iowa, which has painted its water tower in a smiley-face motif (it's visible from Interstate 80), or Granger, Iowa, which has two towers, jokingly labeled "Hot" and "Cold". The matter of community identity is no small one: Pressure-booster stations and ground-storage tanks may be more efficient choices for some towns, but water towers are often the tallest structures in town and can provide a focal point unlike many other features of a town. More than a few of the photos taken of the storm damage in Parkersburg, Iowa, last year featured the town's iconic blue water tower.

Being prepared for holiday trips
July 2, 2009

US News features a short but worthwhile recap of elements for a good personal disaster plan. Naturally, items like extra food and water are important to have around the house, as well as copies of important personal documents. But especially as we approach a long holiday weekend, it's important to consider other measures to take for disaster prevention around the home -- like having working sump pumps (or, even better, battery-backup sump pumps). And for those who might be in places where electrical power could take a while to be returned to service, electrical generators are a good option to consider as well.

Happy Independence Day
July 3, 2009

Flag of the United States

We will be operating on limited hours this Friday due to the Independence 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 everyone a happy 4th of July.

Kansas probably won't stay quiet for $10,000
July 6, 2009

Nebraska and Kansas have been locked in an interstate battle of governments and water users over rights to water assigned by the Republican River Compact. Kansas accuses Nebraska of over-using water from the river, but Nebraska officials disagree. The case has been migrating its way through the legal process since last fall, starting with non-binding arbitration. The arbitrator, however, has just handed down a decision that sides mostly with Nebraska, assigning it to pay a token $10,000 settlement to Kansas for its over-use of the water. Kansas officials will almost certainly take the case to the US Supreme Court, as they have threatened to do throughout the dispute. Long-term drought in the region has affected recreational, hydroelectric, and agricultural uses of water alike, and there have certainly been effects on municipal water use as well.

Doggie doo doesn't go down the storm drain
July 7, 2009

The Water Environment Federation, an industry trade group comprised of a large share of the municipal wastewater treatment community in the United States, is encouraging its member utilities to distribute flyers to their customers reminding them to keep pet waste out of the nation's storm sewers. Pet waste might seem like a silly or trivial matter until one realizes that there are an estimated 163 million domestic dogs and cats in the United States, each of which goes through the same natural bodily functions as their human owners. And when those pets relieve themselves, the waste needs to be retrieved and disposed of properly so that it doesn't make its way straight into rivers and streams. Even if it took five pets to produce the same amount of waste as an average human, that would still represent the equivalent of the populations of Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Left to flow into storm sewers, where it generally returns untreated to rivers, lakes, and streams, that represents a massive environmental and public-health risk.

How will vision drive infrastructure investment?
July 8, 2009

The National Research Council has released a report on a conference devoted to infrastructure quality that notes the need for a more comprehensive vision for infrastructure maintenance and deployment than the United States has typically exhibited in many decades. The report notes that despite billions of dollars of investment in things like roads, water and wastewater treatment, and energy and communications, there has been very little political vision applied to ensuring the quality of those infrastructure systems. Attention is mainly paid when emergencies and disasters come about -- like the failure of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis or the impoundment failure in Kingston, Tennessee -- rather than as a matter for regular and intentional public debate.

Wildfires in Los Angeles as drought lingers
July 9, 2009

Nebraska residents have something in common with Los Angelinos: Living with long-term drought. Nebraska's "seven-year drought", which caused Lake McConaughy to drop to painfully low levels, looks almost easy to survive by comparison with the drought in Los Angeles, where the mayor's drought-related rules regulate even the pouring of water in restaurants. The California drought has led to wildfires in and around LA that occupy the efforts of hundreds of firefighters and cause evacuations as well as other nuisances.

The time to prepare for wildfires, of course, is before they become imminent; our portable fire pumps and home fire-protection packages can be enormously useful when used by well-prepared individuals, and our PTO-driven fire pumps are widely used by fire departments all over the country.

Unusually heavy rainfall across the Plains
July 10, 2009

We've experienced several days over the past week or so with exceptional rainfall amounts across parts of the Upper Midwest, including areas of 4.5" rainfall in southern Iowa on the 3rd and 4th and flood-causing storms in northeastern Iowa overnight (with one report of 6" of rain at Denver, Iowa and a new daily record at Waterloo). Taking a look at the total rainfall over the last seven days, it's clear we've had a wet spell. Times like these serve to remind us of the value of backup systems for pump stations and portable pumps for flood control and lift station bypass, not to mention sump pumps to keep basements from flooding.

Unintentional sewer inspection
July 13, 2009

A 15-year-old girl fell into a New York City sewer last week when she encountered an open manhole while sending text messages from her cell phone. There's obviously some blame to be shared between the city workers who failed to block off the open manhole and the teenager herself for walking so distractedly, but the fact is that she was quite lucky the sewer was shallow and that others were nearby to rescue her. Sewer entries are extremely hazardous due to the buildup of toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide, which can kill almost instantly. Confined-space entry is a hazard closely related to the wastewater industry, which is why we are strong advocates of toxic-gas detection equipment inside any space that could potentially accumulate toxic gases. We are even more committed to promoting the use of above-ground pumping stations anywhere conditions will allow, since above-ground stations are by their nature vastly safer than below-ground stations.

Is bottled water safer than tap water? In a word, no.
July 14, 2009

A public misconception exists that allows many Americans to think that bottled water is somehow safer than tap water. Branding supports this misconception, with bottled water companies calling their products "pure" and "natural". But a report from the GAO says that tap water is held to a higher standard for quality and safety with more stringent regulatory oversight than bottled waters. We encounter this regularly in our work within the municipal water industry; water quality is regulated on several layers, and water-quality monitoring at municipal sources involves a range of parameters for safety and purity. It's only because we have become accustomed to taking tap water for granted that Americans are not more reasonably aware that the product they receive for pennies a day via municipal water lines is also generally the safest water they can buy.

Clinton braces for a higher-than-expected sewer bill
July 15, 2009

The city of Clinton, Iowa, is facing a huge bill to separate its storm sewers from its sanitary sewers, due to an order from the EPA. The separation project (one of several CSO projects in Iowa) also involves a significant upgrade to the city's wastewater treatment plant, and due to expanded requirements could end up costing a lot more than originally expected.

We bring considerable expertise to controlling expenses in municipal wastewater systems and sewer-separation projects. Contact us if you have questions and we'll be happy to help.

Summer Heartland Operators Conference
July 16, 2009

We are exhibiting today at the of the Nebraska Wastewater Operators Division of the Nebraska Water Environment Association. The conference is held every July in Kearney, one of the most centrally-located sites in Nebraska.

Our display at the NWOD meeting

Nebraska tribes get water funding
July 17, 2009

Nebraska has four American Indian tribes headquartered within its boundaries, with crossover representation from other tribes as well. Portions of the economic-stimulus package are being funneled to the Winnebago and Iowa tribes in the state to help with their drinking-water supplies.

The most newsworthy toilet in the universe
July 20, 2009

The main toilet aboard the International Space Station has broken down at a time when 13 astronauts are trying to share the station's limited facilities. The ISS had other wastewater-disposal problems last May, so the repeated breakdowns are becoming more than just a simple aggravation. Even though it probably causes most people to giggle at first (after all, the thought of one of the world's most complex and sophisticated aeronautical systems being hampered by the stellar equivalent of an outhouse is pretty funny), there's actually a very serious story here, and it's of more than just passing importance. Proper sanitation is absolutely essential to the function of any advanced civilization -- and there are still billions of people living on Earth who still lack adequate sanitation and water purification. When we see the problems on the ISS as a microcosm for the problems of the many people living here, we come into a better understanding of just how valuable modern wastewater disposal and treatment are to keeping society healthy and orderly. The problems aboard the space station also hint at just how important it will be to ensure that any systems used for an eventual manned mission to Mars.

Public-private partnerships and infrastructure investment
July 21, 2009

The summer issue of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank magazine includes an interesting article on the use of public-private partnerships to pay for infrastructure. The article addresses two major conclusions of the available research: First, that American government agencies have been much slower to adopt public-private partnership mechanisms than their European counterparts. More important is the observation that many American agencies appear to be using public-private partnerships to cover short-term budgetary gaps rather than to provide incentives for ongoing maintenance and upkeep. The problem with many major civil-engineering projects is that they can be designed well and constructed perfectly, but without ongoing maintenance they can fall into disrepair and fail to reach their intended design lives. Public-private partnerships can help improve that performance by creating checks and balances that ensure that the private partner has an incentive to maintain the capital project (whether it's a toll road, a wastewater treatment plant, or a dam) in good operating condition. But the research indicates that it's more often used strictly as a stopgap measure to obtain short-term financing for government authorities that have run out of money.

With proper maintenance, we've seen Gorman-Rupp self-priming lift stations last for a quarter of a century and more, and we're happy to help with Gorman-Rupp pump parts inquiries to help keep those pumps well-maintained. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Treating the Missouri River like "just a big ditch"
July 22, 2009

The Omaha District of the US Army Corps of Engineers is set to begin a long-term study of the Missouri River, which among other things divides the states of Iowa and Nebraska. The purpose of the study is to determine how the interests of the farmers, barge operators, recreational users, municipalities, power plants, and others that share the river can be balanced in a way that maximizes its usefulness to the region. The Corps has long been responsible for Missouri River management, and Iowa officials think the river may have significant value for recreational purposes that are being under-utilized in favor of straight channels for barge shipping.

We have been involved in many Missouri River projects, including flood-control projects and dams. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Recycling of a different sort
July 23, 2009

The city of Boone, Iowa, just hosted the first Iowa version of the Upper Midwest Manure Handling Expo, which surely involved scores of attendees who have already heard every joke one could possibly make about (as the Associated Press put it) "the business end of hogs". We have worked with the waste-management team at Iowa State University in the past and will again in the future on a range of issues related to managing the waste products of agriculture. Our related products range from sludge and slurry pumps to outdoor air-quality monitors for measuring gases like hydrogen sulfide in the proximity of sludge storage facilities. We also have valuable expertise in lagoon liners for manure containment.

Iowa DNR is taking comments on chloride rule proposal
July 24, 2009

The Iowa DNR is soliciting public comments on a proposed set of rules regarding chloride, sulfate, and total dissolved solids in water discharged to the state's rivers and streams. The state plans to impose limits to protect wildlife, but imposing the new standards could be very costly at a time when municipalities are facing tough budgetary times. Should new rules be imposed, we would encourage plant operators and designers to consider our water-quality monitors, which include many of the proposed parameters for monitoring.

Dredging the Missouri near Blair
July 27, 2009

The US Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a project to dredge the Missouri River near Blair, Nebraska, where they are hoping to re-establish habitat for the pallid sturgeon, an endangered fish found on the Missouri. Dredging projects are perhaps more common than many people realize; we supply dredging pumps to the industry for use in a variety of river and lake dredging projects.

How to fight a fire when there's no water around
July 28, 2009

A fire near Elkhorn, Nebraska, destroyed a building and some equipment at a veterinary center last week. The building was a mile away from the nearest public water source, so three fire departments contributed to an effort to shuttle water to the site via tankers in order to fight the fire. PTO-driven fire pumps are frequently used by fire departments that have to pump water from temporary or out-of-the-way sources in cases like these. We also supply a large range of engine-driven fire pumps for similar purposes.

Historic preservation and environmental protection collide
July 29, 2009

Several communities in Iowa and Nebraska are among those that have been ordered by the Federal government (via the EPA) to upgrade their sewer systems and separate stormwater from sanitary waste before carrying it away from homes and businesses. The process is turning out to be very expensive, and mandates for historic preservation could make the process even more costly. Historic analysis of the sewers and the surrounding ground is being required for a number of projects, including the replacement and repair of brick-lined sewers in Des Moines. The task is complicated on a number of levels, not the least of which is the funding required and the widespread lack of public knowledge about their sewerage systems. The debate has even gone so far as to discuss the possibility of visitors centers at historic sewer sites, though that appears to have been taken off the table for good reason. The Des Moines Register appears to have taken an historic interest in the story, noting that Waterloo once held a banquet in a storm sewer and invited hundreds of guests. That event, in 1903, was to celebrate the opening of a stormwater sewer, which is generally less susceptible to the presence of hazardous gases like hydrogen sulfide and methane that are commonly found in sanitary sewers. Portable gas sensors can be used to monitor for safety in hazardous locations, but sanitary sewers are not really suitable for tourism, even if tours of the sewers of Paris are available.

Stopping erosion with berm reinforcement
July 30, 2009

While it's been unusually cool and dry across much of the Upper Midwest for the last few weeks, heavy rainfall can happen anytime. And when conditions are either particularly wet or particularly dry, berms established to prevent flooding and contain stormwater can be susceptible to failure. One Florida reservoir is conducting $2.8 million in repairs to a berm to help prevent erosion, and one of the methods they're likely to use is geotextile reinforcement. A variety of methods are available, including reinforcement using a combination of geomembranes and geotextiles. Please feel free to contact us with your questions about berm reinforcement and we'll be happy to assist in the best way we can.

How the economy affects water utliities
July 31, 2009

The Reedsburg Utility Commission in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, provides municipal water service along with electricity and cable TV/Internet access to its customers, like many of the public utilities in Iowa and Nebraska. But the bankruptcy filing of a local foundry for ductile iron has saddled the utility commission with an unrecoverable $750,000 bill. They're attempting to use legal proceedings to get the back payments from the foundry, but the utility is probably going to be out a considerable amount of money. At least three utility firms are among the foundry's top unsecured creditors, since the firm had operations in several states. The news should be a warning to any municipal utilities that haven't taken measure of their biggest outstanding accounts: Their finances can affect yours.

Past water and wastewater news updates

last revised July 2009