Derrick Lubbe, Technical Assistance Provider, Midwest Assistance Program
Editor’s Note: The United States Midwest and South experienced unprecedented and prolonged flooding in 2019. According to data compiled by the New York Times, at least 11 states had applied for federal disaster funding for more than 400 counties by the end of June. Some small communities lost a significant proportion of homes and others experienced floodwaters for more than 150 days. RCAP specializes in helping rural water and wastewater systems prepare for and recover from natural disasters like flooding, as Derrick Lubbe explains in this month’s “Drop of Knowledge”
While floodwaters can affect communities in many different ways, most people do not notice the lagoons outside of their town or the wastewater treatment plant tucked in the corner. Some of these can be found in low-lying areas or near rivers and streams. Being located in these vulnerable areas can be challenging during heavy rain events. While flash flooding can occur quickly, usually a wastewater operator or community official will have some warning before waters get too high. Keeping an eye on the forecast, local rainfall, and rainfall upstream can help operators and communities prepare to make important decisions. If signs are pointing toward potentially damaging conditions, having an operational procedure to follow could prove especially beneficial. This operational procedure can consist of many different things, but safety should be a top priority during this process. You need to know your system and plan accordingly, whether that is to pull pumps or motors out, install plugs, shut down power, or find backup equipment. Remember, electricity does not mix with water, and all safety precautions should be taken when working electrical equipment. You also need to be prepared for the possibility of high flow in the mains. Submerged streets, houses filling up with water, and other circumstances could lead to flood water finding its way through the system.
By knowing what needs to be done and following a plan, you could save equipment from being damaged or find another way to continue operations. After preparations have been taken, there might not be much else to do but wait, so don’t sweat the small stuff if things don’t go your way. Just know you tried your best to do what you could and at the end of the day, everyone is safe. While you are preparing for possible floodwaters, communicating with other officials, and doing other tasks, don’t forget to document what you have done and to take to pictures if necessary. Be aware, you may need to report to your regulatory agency of any changes or issues you experience, and keep them informed until conditions return to normal. Each time you have an experience (good or bad) it is an opportunity to learn how to better yourself and your system, so documenting what you do could help prepare for a future event. After such an event, you should inspect anything that may have been damaged to ensure everything is in good working order before returning to normal service.
If needed, bring in a professional to inspect things you are unsure about, such as electrical boxes or controls that were under water. It might be a good idea to write up a report on the conditions and again, take pictures if needed, as this will help in the future and possibly for insurance purposes. The number one priority in these situations is safety. Floodwaters can be very dangerous, as there is a possibility of coming into contact with diseases and chemicals as well as the dangers of how fast it can move and carry debris. Be prepared and learn from your experiences to maintain a safe and sustainable future for your system.