Texas is losing billions of dollars to drought
August 3, 2009

It's been a strangely cool summer for Iowa, but that's a far better experience than the exceptionally dry summer in southern and central Texas. It's been so hot and so dry in Texas that the state could experience $3.6 billion in crop and livestock losses due to the drought. The national drought monitor shows a giant zone of "extreme" and "exceptional" drought in Texas -- the worst in the country -- and it includes 32 million acres of land. More than 200 public water systems in Texas are now under mandatory water restrictions, and the drought is causing conflicts over water use to flare up among neighboring communities. Though our municipal water supplies are often taken for granted, they are undoubtedly among the most essential features of modern life. Strategic, long-term planning for the security of community water supplies has to take into account the exceptional circumstances (like Texas's current drought) that can ignite furious political debate and, more importantly, threaten public health and safety.

The upstream/downstream divide on fertilizer use
August 4, 2009

Farming interests in Iowa and other portions of the Corn Belt may find themselves in legal conflict with government authorities in Louisiana and elsewhere around the Gulf of Mexico as a fight over fertilizer use and "dead zones" is pushed forward. The use of nitrogen- and phosphorus-based fertilizers to help grow crops like corn is blamed for the emergence of a hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico -- the result of those fertilizers washing into streams and rivers, and eventually making their way to the Mississippi River, which flows to the Gulf. The EPA and other agencies are involved in a cooperative arrangement called the Mississippi River Basin Watershed Nutrient Task Force to help address the issue, and a major portion of that effort is one aimed at reducing fertilizer runoff. The challenge for Midwestern interests will be to find ways to reduce fertilizer runoff (which obviously represents wasted expense for farmers anyway) without fighting unreasonable restrictions from states downstream which don't depend in the same way upon cash crops for their economic health.

We offer a variety of products for agricultural use, including products like geomembranes and geotextiles for preventing erosion and controlling runoff. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Louisville (KY) overwhelmed by 7 inches of rain
August 5, 2009

Louisville, Kentucky, was hit with 7 inches of rain in 24 hours, overwhelming the city's sewers and causing a 1-billion-gallon sewage overflow. Sewage overflows are the focus of a major stormwater-control campaign by the EPA, which has mandated that many urban areas separate their sanitary and stormwater sewers from one another. These projects are extremely expensive -- Louisville's sewer authority is engaged in a project that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to separate its storm and sanitary sewers, just like Des Moines and Omaha.

A very unconventional way of saving water
August 6, 2009

An environmental pressure group in Brazil is running television ads encouraging viewers to relieve themselves in the shower, rather than using toilets. The claim is a bit dubious -- where people choose to urinate is hardly the best way to "save the rainforests" -- and it would seem that equivalent savings could be achieved simply by encouraging people to insert containers to displace water in their toilet tanks.

On a much larger scale, please feel free to contact us with your questions about improving municipal wastewater treatment.

Canadian wildfires chase 5,300 people from their homes
August 7, 2009

A combination of dry weather and lightning strikes has created a huge wildfire problem in British Columbia. The United States has been having a pretty problematic fire year, as well -- with more fires and more acres burned this year to date than last year. Nationally, we are currently above the ten-year average for both metrics. Fire management takes place on some scales (like El Nino patterns) that are far beyond our control, but it can also take place on the micro scale, where people use portable firefighting pumps to help protect their properties and contain small fires before they spread.

Keeping drugs out of the water
August 10, 2009

The National Associates of Counties has passed a resolution endorsing policies to require pharmaceutical companies to take back unused and unwanted medicines. The introduction of pharmaceuticals and other "emerging contaminants" into drinking water supplies has become a source of considerable new attention in recent years. Some pharmaceuticals will be found in water supplies no matter what happens to the unwanted drugs, since many chemicals are only partially processed or used by the body and end up flowing through to the wastewater stream as a result. But when people use their toilets as a disposal mechanism for unwanted drugs, they compound the problem significantly. Opinions on proper disposal mechanisms can vary, since hazardous-waste disposal sites are not always readily available or accessible, and recommendations that drugs be disposed of alongside ordinary trash may ignore the fact that landfill leachate (the liquids that come from stormwater runoff around landfills and the liquids inside the garbage itself) can itself simply end up right back at municipal wastewater plants.

Sump pump hunt in Clear Lake
August 11, 2009

The city of Clear Lake, Iowa, is conducting a massive hunt for illegal sump pump connections. In most places, it is against the law to connect a domestic sump pump to a municipal sewer line, and for good reason. Sump pumps obviously produce most of their flows during periods of heavy rain, which in turn causes wastewater treatment plants to become needlessly overloaded. Sewer systems face heavier loads during heavy rain periods than during dry weather simply due to ordinary infiltration and inflow as water finds its way into cracks in sewer lines and through manholes. But adding to those flows are illegal sump pump connections, which send extra water to wastewater plants that end up treating what is otherwise mostly clean stormwater.

"The pipe makes civilization possible"
August 12, 2009

One might not usually turn to Esquire magazine for thoughts about sewage treatment, but a recent issue included an excellent day-in-the-life story about a plumber that probes deeper than just a superficial "homage to the working man" and really makes some valuable connections between the work that people in the water and wastewater industries do and how it really does make civilization possible. Decidedly worthwhile reading for anyone, whether inside or outside the civil-works industry.

Restaurants and cities enter conflict over grease
August 13, 2009

As cities and sewer districts try to manage a variety of new regulations, many are paying greater attention than in the past to the problem of fats, oils, and greases in their collection sewer systems. One such incident has attracted the attention of the Des Moines Register, which recently featured a story about two well-known local restaurants facing expensive projects to capture and contain grease before it reaches the local sewer system. The problem, on the surface, looks like a lose-lose proposition all the way around: The wastewater-collection agency can't handle the grease on its own, since it can be blamed for clogging sewers and causing disastrous backups. But the restaurants often find the cost of grease-containment systems to be prohibitive. Fortunately, some entrepreneurs have found ways to use waste grease from restaurants to produce biodiesel, which can turn an expensive nuisance into a form of "clean" energy. On a larger scale, many industrial applications use dissolved-air floatation clarifiers to remove fats, oils, and greases (known together as FOG) as a method of industrial pretreatment of their wastewater.

Public meeting on Omaha CSO project coming Tuesday
August 14, 2009

The city of Omaha is under orders from Federal authorities to conduct a major campaign to get rid of combined sewer overflows, largely by rolling out a massive new storm sewer system in much of the city. The city will have a public meeting on Tuesday to discuss the plan, which is likely to cost around $1.5 billion.

Separation of storm and sanitary sewers often involves lots of gates and new pumping stations. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Hurricane season is back
August 17, 2009

Today we already have two active tropical storms plus the full-fledged Hurricane Bill in the Atlantic region, serving to remind us that hurricane season is back. While we're insulated from most of the effects of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Upper Midwest (though a category 1 hurricane in 1900 did track through central Iowa), we are certainly sympathetic to those who experience flooding and damage from hurricanes, since our region is a hotbed for tornadoes and river flooding alike. Those preparing for major storms ought to consider the value of pumps for post-storm cleanup and portable electric generators. As became obvious in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, sometimes help from the outside is too slow or too limited to really help when assistance is needed.

Chicago MSD might've been taken for a ride in the bond market
August 18, 2009

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago is the independent agency that handles wastewater treatment for most of the Chicago metropolitan area. It just issued $600 million in bonds, but despite its AAA rating in the markets, the MWRD appears to have gotten a bad deal that will cost its rate- and tax-payers an extra $8 million over what the market probably would have otherwise delivered. Critics of the deal say that the firm hired to help issue the bonds didn't underwrite the bond offering at a competitive price.

When floods are more than just a nuisance
August 19, 2009

Having experienced massive and extraordinary flooding in the last year, Iowans are well-aware of the impact that natural events can have when water overwhelms croplands. But it's difficult to imagine what life would be like in a place like Bolivia, where floods are such a regular occurrence that they perpetually devastate conventional farms. Some farmers in the Bolivian Amazon are employing ancient raised-bed cropping methods in order to control the flooding and take advantage of it to provide storage for long-term irrigation supplies. It's a seemingly simple but quite logical way of turning a recurring disaster into a sustainable method of agriculture. Canal-type irrigation is only in limited use in parts of the United States, since there are much more efficient ways of delivering water where it is naturally scarce (canals lose a lot of water to evaporation and seepage). Where it is overly abundant, though, storage canals may be the smartest method around.

We can help you with canal gates and portable pumps, as well as other products for use on the farm. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Upper Missouri basin hits a 10-year high
August 20, 2009

The effects of a very long-term drought are being broken in the upper Missouri River basin, where North Dakota lakes fed by the Missouri are reaching their highest levels since 1999. That's very good news for communities downstream like Omaha and Sioux City, which depend upon the river for economic value as well as raw water supplies.

Des Moines Water Works may be white knight for Xenia
August 21, 2009

The Xenia Rural Water District, which serves many small communities in central Iowa, has been seeking ways to pay down a significant debt burden that has threatened to cause a massive rate hike to its customers. The Des Moines Water Works, which already serves as a bulk water supplier to Xenia, is preparing a list of "several proposals" to Xenia's financial situation, which may include a buyout of the water district. Rural water districts serve a large portion of the state of Iowa, since many communities are too small to sustain their own water-treatment infrastructure.

What happens when the largest countries run short of water?
August 24, 2009

India, currently the world's second-largest country and on track to become the most-populous within 40 years, appears to be entering a period of water shortages caused mainly by over-irrigation of agricultural land, potentially leading to serious food crop shortages. The fact that irrigation is blamed for the water shortages -- not natural events or changes in climate -- points to the fact that water is likely to become a considerably more valuable resource in the future than it is today. Contrary to the common misperception that water is naturally abundant and thus should be free to all, it takes considerable effort and expense to consistently deliver safe and reliable water supplies for human use, whether in domestic, industrial, or agricultural applications.

Five Nebraska lakes under alert; more in Iowa
August 25, 2009

Nebraska's Department of Environmental Quality says that Bluestem Lake, Merritt Reservoir, and Rockford Lake are under health alerts right now for the presence of toxic blue-green algae, and Branched Oak Lake and Louisville Lake #2 are experiencing high E. coli bacteria levels. In Iowa, Backbone Lake, Beeds Lake, and Nine Eagles Lake are under warnings for E. coli and about 15 other lakes, mainly in southern Iowa, are reported as "impaired" right now. E. coli is used as an indicator of water quality since it's often associated with the presence of untreated fecal waste. Blue-green algae are directly harmful as carriers of toxic bacteria. Both problems are tied to the presence of nutrients in the water caused by untreated runoff. Among other things, the nutrients are often the result of excessive fertilizer and manure runoff from agricultural property, over-fertilization of lawns, waste from pets and wild animals, and to a generally lesser degree, insufficiently-treated municipal wastewater.

Preparation time for the East Coast
August 26, 2009

Tropical Storm Danny is on track to move right up the Eastern Seaboard, starting as a hurricane when it reaches North Carolina on Saturday, and likely tracking over much of New Jersey, Long Island, and New England into Sunday. The story is mainly being overwhelmed by news of Sen. Ted Kennedy's death, but East Coast hurricanes frequently move very quickly. Even a few days of advance notice may be enough for people who could be in the path of the storm to prepare with products like portable electric generators and flood-cleanup pumps.

Controlling carbon could threaten water quality
August 27, 2009

The EPA is soliciting public comments on geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide. It has been proposed that carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere and stored in underground rock formations. One of the possible fields of concern is that carbon dioxide trapped underground could seep into deep aquifers and alter the pH balance of the water stored there and possibly cause other chemicals to migrate into the water supply. Given the considerable amount of work we do in the clean-water sector, issues like carbon sequestration are high on our radar screen. We are already work with communities and industrial water users to install pH monitors for their water supplies.

That's a lot of rain
August 28, 2009

According to the National Weather Service, much of central and southeastern Iowa got three inches or more of rain yesterday, including some isolated areas of 6" reports. Any intense period of rainfall like that will place a burden on a number of systems, including stormwater sewers and municipal wastewater systems that have to deal with inflow and infiltration. Moreover, that kind of intense rainfall undoubtedly has a lot of people wondering about their sump pumps and perhaps considering the value of battery-backup sump pumps that can help keep basements dry when the power goes out due to storm damage.

Wildfire near Los Angeles doubled in size overnight
August 31, 2009

A wildfire near Los Angeles doubled in size overnight to reach 85,000 acres with more than 12,000 homes threatened by the fires and no sign that they're nearing containment. The fires are even posing a direct threat to the radio and television towers that serve most of the market, and if they're damaged or destroyed, it could become extremely difficult for emergency notices to be issued to the public, since many telephone towers are served from the site as well. Tragically, two firefighters have been killed in their efforts to protect lives and property nearby. More than 2,500 firefighters are at work with a variety of tools trying to control the burn.

As portable fire-pump distributors and suppliers of PTO-driven fire pumps, we are following the story closely and send our best wishes to the public-safety professionals doing their best to protect their neighbors.

Past water and wastewater news updates

last revised August 2009