It's time to check your sump pumps
March 1, 2010

Flooding all over Iowa and the Upper Midwest is basically a sure thing this spring, due to really deep snowpack and the almost inevitable heavy rainfall that marks virtually every spring here. That means it's absolutely, positively essential that homeowners and business operators check their sump pumps without delay to make sure that basement flooding won't be an inevitable byproduct of the spring warmup. If your sump pump isn't working properly, we can help you find a new one. But now is not the time to delay. Find and fix the problem now, before it's too late.

Sea wall failure kills dozens in France
March 2, 2010

A seawall that supposedly dates to the Napoleonic era failed and led to at least 50 deaths in a coastal French town as 26' tall waves went into the community. It's the worst storm to hit France in a decade, and it overwhelmed dikes and produced winds of more than 100 mph at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

We may be landlocked here in the Upper Midwest, but we do face flooding of our own. Among the tools we have available to manage and mitigate floodwaters along dikes and floodwalls: flap gates, sluice gates, and tide-regulated gates. Contact us any time with any questions you might have.

Iowa's proposed lake-nutrient rules to be paused and overhauled
March 3, 2010

The Iowa DNR issued notice to members of the Water Quality mailing list a few days ago indicating that the proposed revisions to the state's rules regarding the management of nutrients (like nitrogen and phosphorus) in the state's lakes and public waters were being put on hold. The nutrient study has been underway for years and a notice of intended action had been issued, but the DNR says that public hearings gave it new information that will require extensive revisions to the proposal. Thus the DNR is asking the Environmental Protection Commission to put the brakes on the approval of the rule at their meeting on March 16th.

We naturally take great interest in the standards applied to water quality in Iowa, since those conditions are affected by (and affect) much of the work we do, especially in municipal wastewater treatment. We will of course be paying careful attention to the changes made to the lake-nutrient standards.

UPS to pay civil penalty over EPA allegations about hazardous waste
March 4, 2010

UPS has settled a $54,000 civil penalty with the EPA over the alleged generation of hazardous waste at a facility in the southwestern portion of the Kansas City metro.

Product spotlight: While we can't control the volume of hazardous waste generated at any facilities other than our own, we do offer a variety of spill-containment options, particularly including geomembranes for controlling spills of all types -- including for hazardous materials. A small investment in a good geomembrane barrier could save a lot of fines and cleanup expenses later.

Mobile-home park to close because it can't afford $250,000 sewer upgrade
March 5, 2010

The Lansing Valley Mobile City, located just west of Lansing, Iowa, is being closed down because its owners do not believe they can afford the $250,000 in improvements to the park's septic system that will be required by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to meet current standards. As stricter guidelines are enforced in the interest of better protection of our water resources, there will undoubtedly be other communities -- including municipalities -- that will be forced to take costly and sometimes drastic action in order to meet higher standards for wastewater discharge quality. Some will need to line existing wastewater lagoons, some will need to install disinfection systems like chlorination systems or ultraviolet disinfection units, and others will simply have to start pumping their wastewater to communities with better treatment systems.

Bad news: Iowa's flood risks are even larger than before
March 8, 2010

The National Weather Service office in Des Moines has issued its third spring flooding outlook, and declares: "The risk of major flooding has increased een higher since the second outlook on February 19th". Flooding is now expected from the middle of March into late April, with high risks for both ordinary river flooding and flash floods. The four river basins about which they are most concerned are the Des Moines, Raccoon, Iowa, and Cedar -- which, unfortunately, include the biggest population centers as well. The latest report from the Davenport NWS office is just as threatening, with very high probabilities for major flooding along the Mississippi River, for the Wapsipinicon River at De Witt, the Cedar River at Conesville and Cedar Rapids, and the Iowa River at Wapello and Columbus Junction. The Omaha office of the NWS, anticipating flooding in its region as well, is pointing residents to a brochure about flooding and levees offered by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

In anticipation of flooding conditions this year, we're recommending that communities with floodwalls and associated water-control gates check those gates for ease of operation now (rather than waiting for a flood situation), and check their flood-control pumps to ensure that they're ready to start quickly when the need arises. We also have portable dams available for those communities expecting floodwaters. Portable dams offer an environmentally-friendly and quick-deployment alternative to sandbags.

"What you should know about vapor intrusion"
March 9, 2010

The EPA has a useful online fact sheet about vapor intrusion into homes and other buildings which illustrates how the vapors from chemicals like volatile organic compounds can seep from the groundwater and contaminated soils into habitable buildings. Vapor-intrusion hazards aren't particularly common, though they do occur frequently enough that many large cities have case studies and example sites nearby. In Waterloo, Iowa, for instance, the site of an old coal gasification plant has been identified as a location where vapor-intrusion controls will be required for future construction. Vapor barriers are an effective means of reducing the risk of vapor intrusion and can also be helpful for reducing the incidence of hazards like black mold. We are happy to answer your questions about vapor barriers -- just contact us at your convenience.

New UV system delivers household-scale water disinfection
March 10, 2010

UV Pure is now offering a household-scale system for water purification, similar in style and performance to the larger municipal and industrial UV disinfection systems we presently offer from their lineup. The new "Cactus" system is designed for low flows -- 8 or 12 gallons per minute -- and for user-friendly installation. Contact us for more information on these systems.

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Former plant owner to pay $350,000 in Clean Water Act penalties
March 11, 2010

The former owner of a dairy-products plant in West Point, Nebraska, is being assessed $350,000 in civil penalties by the EPA for violations of the Clean Water Act. The EPA says the violations lasted from the late 1970s through 2006, and caused the city to exceed limits for pollutants discharged to the Elkhorn River.

Dairy plants have challenging wastewater requirements, since they often have very high BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) loads, among other factors. Our PTFE-coated aeration diffusers have proven useful in dairy-waste applications due to their ability to resist calcium fouling. Questions? Let us know and we'll be happy to help.

First floods of the season reach Des Moines
March 12, 2010

Upstream ice jams broke and caused flash floods to pass through Des Moines over the last day or two, and though the flash floods have passed, the rivers are going to be on the rise for a while to come as snowmelt from the river basins makes its way from the tributaries into the main rivers. The Polk County emergency manager has alerted local media that they are planning for flooding throughout the weekend and into next week, and the Corps of Engineers has increased the amount of outflow at the Saylorville Dam to reduce the chances that the dam will be overtopped in the next couple of weeks. The spring flood outlook from the National Weather Service offers a lot of sobering news for Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Related products: Just today, we bid on a project using sluice gates to control floodwaters along a levee in Des Moines. Using stainless steel gates in a flood-control application has a number of advantages over conventional materials like cast iron. Since stainless steel gates travel within a UHMW-PE channel, there's no metal-to-metal contact between the gate's slide plate and the channel in which it travels; this does away with the need for gates to be exercised to keep them from freezing in place. Moreover, stainless steel gates gain their strength and durability from design rather than sheer bulk, which means they're easier to install and easier to actuate (that is, to raise and lower) than heavier cast iron gates. This makes them better for operation and installation alike.

Why portable water-quality monitors and fixed-point monitors sometimes read differently
March 15, 2010

ATI has issued a very helpful brief on the differences between the results given by portable water-quality monitors for conditions like turbidity and dissolved oxygen, and their fixed-point counterparts. Due to a mental bias in favor of answers that appear precise, people often favor the answers from their portable monitors over the ones from their fixed-point monitors -- because the portable monitors tend to give faster response times and to change quickly while in service. But those quicker response times tend to be due to the thinner membranes used in portable monitors, and they fluctuate more because fixed-point monitors are generally designed to give stabilized, averaged readings over a period of time. Knowing the difference between the two types of readings can give the user a better appreciation for the proper application of each.

We can help you with water-quality monitors for a wide range of applications, including dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and pH. We also have portable monitors available for many of the same parameters. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

A local case for rate conditioning
March 16, 2010

Rate conditioning is a process by which public utilities raise their rates by small, incremental amounts year after year, rather than holding rates at a steady level for years and increasing them only in large amounts. The concept is meant to "condition" rate payers to small increases in their utility bills, just as they are conditioned to expect price increases with the other things they buy as a result of ordinary effects like inflation. The board at Muscatine Power and Water voted in November to approve an operating budget for 2010 that includes some 3% and 4% rate increases. The utility put off a lot of capital expenditures in 2009 and still faced a very difficult budgetary year.

Since the utility is a municipally-owned entity, it's not designed to turn a profit -- but even with all of that in mind, customers are complaining anyway with angry letters to the editor about the rate increases. It's simply impossible to make some people understand concepts like "not for profit". Rate conditioning may not solve every utility's customer complaints, and it may be unpalatable in some places (particularly when politics are involved, since it's much easier to run on a platform of "holding the line" on rates than on a platform of "training customers to accept small increases as a reflection of the ever-rising cost of doing business"), but more utilities may find it necessary in the future, since capital improvements cannot be held off forever and a huge amount of infrastructure investment will be required across the United States simply to maintain today's levels of service, much less deliver improved service in the future to deal with emerging challenges to drinking water service, like pharmaceuticals and nanoparticles.

Environmental activist groups plan press conference to attack gas chlorination
March 17, 2010

The American Water Works Association has issued an advisory to its members noting that Greenpeace and related environmental-activism groups are staging a press conference tomorrow to push for a prohibition on the use of gas chlorination systems in municipal water systems.

Gas chlorination is one of several technologies available for water and wastewater disinfection. Other methods include tablet chlorination and ultraviolet disinfection. Chlorination has been hailed as one of the key milestones in public health of the 20th Century, and the American Chemistry Council highlights the dramatic results towards eliminating typhoid fever that followed the start of water chlorination in the United States. Today's opponents of the use of gas chlorination suggest that the gas canisters themselves pose a threat to public health since they can be ruptured by accidents or used as weapons in terrorist attacks. On balance, though, chlorine-based water disinfection has likely directly or indirectly saved thousands of American lives over the years, and the costs to switching disinfection methods could be burdensome for many water utilities, which are already finding themselves under difficult budgetary conditions just trying to keep their infrastructure updated. Any new regulations that might require changes should undergo a careful cost-benefit analysis first.

Saylorville Dam might not be overtopped
March 18, 2010

The latest model being used by Polk County Emergency Management and the US Army Corps of Engineers suggests that the emergency bladder atop the Saylorville Dam should provide about a foot and a half of freeboard above the high water level expected at Saylorville, which could prevent flooding in the city of Des Moines. The city is developing temporary levees as a secondary defense in case the reservoir is overtopped, but the complete set of efforts to upgrade flood protections in Des Moines isn't complete -- one major flood-control project just went to bids a few days ago, which places construction months away.

Related products: We serve the flood-management sector with products ranging from portable pumps to temporary dams to flood-control gates. If you need information on any of those products, please feel free to contact us at any time.

A view of the floods so far
March 19, 2010

Here are a couple of views of the flooding in downtown Des Moines today: The river is very high, but no serious damage appears to have occurred (at least not yet).

The good news is that the latest prediction for the Saylorville Reservoir forecasts a crest lower than previously expected, giving the reservoir some additional expected freeboard (the difference between the water level and the berms, flood gates, and other walls keeping it in). We continue to receive lots of inquiries about Gorman-Rupp portable pumps for flood control, from all over the Midwest.

Who fixed a leak last week?
March 22, 2010

The EPA promotes an annual event called "Fix a Leak Week" which just elapsed for the year. The agency claims that more than a trillion gallons of water are lost to household leaks every year -- and those gallons mostly come from treated public water supplies. What's less well-known is that huge amounts of water are lost in public water-distribution systems, largely due to leaks in the water mains. These and other unaccounted losses are responsible for a 10% to 20% gap between water produced and water consumed in most American water systems.

One way to combat leaks and losses is to keep water mains in good condition. Combination air-release valves can help relieve pressure in lines caused by the accumulation of air and prevent the collapse of mains when transitory vacuums occur. These functions reduce the stress on the pipe, helping to reduce the chances that the pipe will burst or collapse catastrophically, or leak quietly.

Stockholm Water Prize recognizes cholera researcher
March 23, 2010

The recipient of the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize has been named: Johns Hopkins public-health researcher Dr. Rita Colwell. Her work has focused largely on microbiology and particularly on waterborne diseases like cholera. She also served for six years as the director of the National Science Foundation. The prize recognizes her contributions to the prevention of the spread of cholera, particularly through predictions based on environmental conditions that can cause the disease to break out at previously-unexpected times. The discovery that cholera could be spread by contaminated water gave birth to the modern era in drinking-water treatment and protection, and its continued presence -- particularly in poor countries and following natural disasters -- remains the cause of thousands of deaths each year.

Clean public water supplies rely on consistent disinfection and safe distribution. We often take these for granted in the United States, but they require continuous reinvestment and maintenance.

Davenport officials think they're ready for a flood
March 24, 2010

The Mississippi River at Davenport is expected to crest just below flood stage late next week -- days after the rest of the region's rivers have fallen -- but the officials at the city of Davenport think they're ready for any potential flooding. Downstream, Burlington has been above flood stage for days, but authorities there are not concerned with the river rise. Des Moines has been fortunate to reach a peak stage at Saylorville several feet lower than once anticipated. Iowa has generally been very fortunate with this spring's flooding; most of the worst-case scenarios have been avoided, and though there have been lots of hard-worked sump pumps inside homes and businesses, and lots of deployments of portable flood pumps, many of the precautions taken in the past have paid off today. That, of course, is the challenge with flooding: Most of the best preparations can only be taken when things are high and dry -- which is when people are least likely to want to pay for flood-prevention measures. Good stormwater control requires lots of foresight and planning.

EPA plans tougher rules on carcinogens in drinking water
March 25, 2010

The EPA administrator has announced her intent to tighten regulations on four chemicals in drinking water. Two are industrial compounds (tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene) that enter the water through groundwater contamination; the other two (acrylamide and epichlorohydrin) can enter the water during treatment. We are fortunate in that Iowa and Nebraska have abundant and clean natural supplies of drinking water, though both states have encountered pressures on their water supplies due to heavy use and occasional climate patterns. It's not likely that our municipal water supplies will be much-affected by these new regulations, but they might signal the EPA's intent to toughen standards on drinking water, which could require new strategies for treatment not previously required. We can help communities with everything from pumping to disinfection, and we now have access to several state-of-the-art technologies for micro-filtration and even nano-filtration. Contact us with your questions and we'll be happy to help.

Iowa DNR plans next step in nutrient-budget rules
March 26, 2010

One of the main issues in water-quality management in the Midwest is the management of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus which migrate into the water largely due to runoff from fertilized lands like farms and fertilized lawns. The same nutrients that can encourage plant growth on land can have mixed effects when they migrate into the water, where they can cause an imbalance between the naturally-occuring fish and aquatic plants. Among other things, the nutrients can cause algae blooms which can choke off the oxygen and sunlight that reach lower levels of lakes, putting them into serious imbalance. As part of its review of nutrient rules, the Iowa DNR is convening a "technical advisory committee" composed mainly of scientists from Iowa universities to advise the DNR on what standards should be used. According to some previous guidance, a majority of Iowa's lakes qualify as "impaired" by high nutrient levels.

Related products: We can help you with products to control runoff into rivers, lakes, and streams, including turbidity curtains and other stormwater-control products. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Put down the bottled water and get ready to pay a lot more
March 29, 2010

The US Conference of Mayors is out with a report saying they expect municipal water and wastewater charges to double or even quadruple over the next 20 years, as municipalities struggle to catch up with years of neglected maintenance and reinvestment in our safe water infrastructure. The report suggests that cities have become ill-equipped to keep up with the need to spend more to keep the water mains and sewer lines in top working condition. While it will always be difficult to raise rates without encountering an unpleasant public outcry, there's really not much choice: The Federal government is running trillion-dollar annual deficits, so its future capacity to subsidize this kind of work is looking worse all the time. While public complaints about rate increases may be loud and unpleasant, the simple truth is that people who have grown accustomed to paying $16 a gallon for bottled water (which, by the way, is almost always municipal tap water from somewhere) really don't have much to complain about when they pay $0.004 per gallon for tap water.

Let us know if we can help: We serve the full spectrum of municipal drinking water and wastewater equipment needs for Iowa and Nebraska.

From floods straight into fire danger
March 30, 2010

With the eastern portion of Iowa still facing high river levels as spring flooding makes its way down the Mississippi, most of Nebraska is under threat of high fire risk as warm temperatures and high winds meet over grasslands that haven't had time yet to green up for the spring. Red flag warnings (signaling critical levels of fire danger) cover most of the state this afternoon, and a cold front expected on Thursday should bring thunderstorms -- which could help improve the situation by saturating the ground, as long as lightning strikes don't cause fires in advance of the front.

We supply portable fire pumps of many types for fire control, most of which are available through our online store for quick shipment.

Epic floods in Rhode Island overwhelm wastewater plant
March 31, 2010

The wastewater treatment plant in Warwick, Rhode Island, has been closed and evacuated due to flooding, and authorities there think it could take months to bring the system, which serves the second-largest city in the state, back on line. The current flooding in Rhode Island is unprecedented, according to the governor, and the waters have closed parts of I-95 and led to evacuations. In addition to creating widespread need for flood-cleanup pumps, the flooding is likely to contaminate lots of private water wells.

The best way to recover quickly from flooding is to prepare long before the rains arrive. Make sure your sump pumps are in working order, and if you're in a particularly flood-prone area, get portable flood-cleanup pumps and generators on site well in advance of the need. Wells that have become contaminated will probably need shock chlorination, but a new ultraviolet disinfection system for small wells could be just the trick for ensuring health and safety in a time of need. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

Past water and wastewater news updates

last revised March 2010