The Power of Pumps
Communities rely on permanent pumping stations and portable pumps for flood control.
Fred Remen knows pumps. He has to. He works with the
South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), an agency responsible
for maintaining more than 2,500 miles of canals in 16 rapidly growing
counties in the Sunshine State, stretching from the diverse ecosystems
of the wild Everglades to the touristy Florida Keys.
The district is responsible for 300 major water control structures
and several thousand minor ones. Many of the major ones are large,
multipiece pumping systems designed to move stormwater and floodwater
out of low-lying residential areas. Gravity can’t do the job without
“Pumps are definitely a way of life here in south Florida,” says Remen, director of field operations with the SFWMD.
Photo: Global Pump
|Multiple-piece pumping-systems are built to direct stormwaater out of low-lying areas.
And Remen is far from alone. As developers continue
their push to build on undeveloped land, even if that land sits in areas
prone to flooding, municipal agencies are turning more frequently to
manmade pumping systems to do the job that gravity alone can’t.
Many of the systems are similar to the ones Remen and his agency rely
on: large, permanently installed pumping systems operating in low-lying
areas prone to seasonal flooding; busy urban locales where engineers
can no longer build adequate drainage systems; or riverfront areas that
need additional protection.
Other systems are temporary. Municipalities might need portable
pumping systems for routine cleaning or maintenance of their storm sewer
systems, catch basins, or ponds. Others might call on them for the
emergency cleaning of a storm sewer after particularly heavy rainfall.
Pumping systems have played a major role in the cleanup efforts in
hurricane-battered communities along the Gulf Coast. Their high-profile
work in New Orleans and neighboring communities following Hurricane
Katrina garnered headlines, but pumping systems have offered
municipalities hope for dealing with flooding and stormwater problems
“We do offer solutions for a lot of communities,” says Dave Sheldon
of Roseburg, OR–based Romtec Utilities, a maker of pumping systems and
stormwater lift stations. “A good share of our business comes from new
development where they are hooking sanitary sewers to a gravity sewer.
The gravity may no longer be causing the wastewater to flow, so they
need a pressure line and submersible pumps to then dump that back into
the treatment plant.
“Stormwater is another big part of our business,” adds Sheldon. “This
is especially the case with new developments. Instead of allowing the
runoff from city streets, large industrial complexes, airports, or large
parking areas to run straight into streams, municipalities want to
control it, put it in some type of detention pond. Sometimes that means
using pumping systems to stop it from where it would overflow and then
pumping it into streams or other areas.”
The makers of pumping systems expect demand for their products to
increase as housing and commercial construction continues its heady
pace. And there are, unfortunately, always heavy rains and natural
disasters that leave waterlogged communities in their wakes. Municipal
officials will continue calling on pumping systems in these cities and
Here are some ways in which municipalities across the country have
used pumping systems to solve their stormwater and flooding problems.
Each case study provides its own lessons in selecting the right pumping
system for the right job.
Installing a Submersible Pump
for Flood Control
Photo: ITT Flygt
Photo: ITT Flygt
Photo: ITT Flygt
Photo: ITT Flygt
Photo: ITT Flygt
Keeping Up With the Building Boom
Remen doesn’t see any end to the SFWMD’s reliance on pumping stations.
After all, developers keep building housing subdivisions and are showing
little inclination to stop.
The challenge comes because counties are permitting residential
developments in low-lying portions of southern Florida. These areas are
especially prone to flooding, and southern Florida never lacks for heavy
rain. It’s up to Remen and his agency’s engineers to redirect the storm
flows from these frequent storms away from residential areas.
It’s a challenge the management district would never be able to meet
without pumping systems. “We have no choice, really, but to go with
pumps in many areas,” Remen says. “We like to go with gravity flow, of
course, but in many areas that we are serving, the residential areas may
be lower than the canal systems that are being used to serve them.”
The agency today manages more than 50 pumping stations, ranging from
200 horsepower to several thousand. In all, Remen’s agency is
responsible for more than 100,000 horsepower worth of pumps.
Pumps today are more important here than ever, Remen says, mainly
because the pace of development has increased so rapidly during the last
Today, officials with the agency are in the midst of a huge
renovation of the Central and Southern Florida Project, a massive flood
control plan dating back decades.
Built by the Army Corps of Engineers starting in 1948, the project
includes 21 water control spillways, 75 secondary drainage structures,
250 miles of flood control channels, and the 144-mile Herbert Hoover
Dike. The corps constructed the project, which serves an
18,000-square-mile area that extends from south of Orlando to Florida
Bay, to help control the flooding that was common in the area and as a
means of providing a clean water supply to nearby agricultural and urban
The project has performed both tasks well for decades. But it has had
unintended consequences. The most serious? The stormwater it pumps into
the Everglades is at times polluted, filled with soils, phosphorous,
weeds, and other debris. The renovation project is adding
enhancements—the most significant of which are several large pumping
stations—that, instead of pumping stormwater directly into the
Everglades, will send it first through large stormwater treatment areas
that remove chemicals and pollutants before the water hits the
environmentally sensitive Everglades.
The project is an important one, but also a huge task. Engineers
built a prototype stormwater treatment area 15 years ago to prove that
such zones could effectively clean polluted water. Such areas are large
marshes that naturally remove phosphorous from the water. The district
relies on pumping systems to move stormwater through these marshes. That
initial treatment area did its job well, reducing the pollutants
severely. Once these positive results came in, the management district
embarked on its aggressive construction program. This involved buying
and swapping land, always a time-consuming and expensive process.
“Because Florida is so flat—and that’s the whole reason our agency
exists—we have to move the water to these treatment areas. We can’t rely
on gravity to do it for us,” Remen says. “If not for the pumps, we
wouldn’t be able to move the water.”
How complicated is the series of pumping systems—the key part of the
stormwater treatment areas operated by the water management district—now
operating in southern Florida? Just consider one stormwater treatment
area recently designed by the district’s engineers.
Known as STA 1 West, the treatment area consists of almost 7,000
acres, more than 10 square miles, of agricultural fields that have been
converted to wetland treatment systems designed to reduce phosphorous
loads entering the Everglades. Located in the western portion of Palm
Beach County, construction of STA 1 West in 2000 involved the creation
of about 6,670 acres of treatment wetlands, 14 miles of levees, three
concrete spillways, culverts, and, of course, pump station G-310.
This important pumping system consists of six individual pumping
units, two electric pumps that can move 100 cubic feet of water every
second, two diesel pumps with the capability of moving 470 cubic feet of
water a second, and two more larger diesel pumps that can pump 950
cubic feet of water every second. With a capacity of 3,040 cubic feet
per second, the pumping system discharges almost 2 billion gallons of
treated water every day.
Photo: Global Pump
|Instead of allowing potentially polluted runoff to
head straight for streams, municipalities use pumping systems to
redirect the overflow.
That’s impressive. But so is the fact that the
management district also operates an exact duplicate of the G-310 pump
station about 2 miles away. The duplicate, known as the G-335 station,
is an intake station, located at the point where the water pushed
through by G-310 is discharged.
Both G-310 and G-335 are what are known as formed suction inlet
pumps. Each uses propellers that create a vacuum inside a large intake
pipe that pulls in water from the lower canal side of the pumping
station. Water moves through the pipe and is discharged into the storage
area on the other side. A screen at the front of the intake prevents
weeds and debris from entering the system.
“We’re doing what we can to protect the Everglades and to keep
stormwater moving throughout our district without impacting all these
low-lying residential areas,” Remen says. “We wouldn’t be able to do it
without our pumps.”
A Flexible Solution
Southern Florida isn’t the only community that has benefited from
pumping systems. Communities turn to them frequently because they are
flexible enough to solve flooding and stormwater problems of all sizes
The City of Santa Barbara, CA, for instance, last July used pumps to
improve the municipality’s summer water quality. The goal behind the
program? Pumping systems would divert polluted runoff from storm drains
quickly into sanitary sewers. The water could then be funneled into the
city’s treatment areas, where the pollution and bacteria would be
The city turned to pumping systems for the same reasons so many other
municipalities have. Santa Barbara is a popular summer destination,
with its population increasing during the warmer months. These months
are also when people are more apt to heavily water their lawns, wash
their cars in the streets, and hose off sidewalks and parking lots. The
problem is that this urban runoff, especially during dry periods, often
contains bacterial pollutants from everything from soil to animal waste.
Oil mixes in with water that residents spray in parking lots and into
city streets. Even pieces of garbage are picked up by the water flow.
And eventually, all that muck can flow into the creeks and streams that
lead to the Pacific Ocean.
“We’d been concerned with the dry-weather urban runoff we’d been
getting,” says Jill Zachary, creek restoration and water-quality manager
with the city. “It was especially bad at certain areas. We needed to
address all the pollutants and bacteria that the runoff was picking up.”
This problem was especially acute at Haley Street in a residential
area near downtown Santa Barbara. The Haley Street storm drain, serving a
busy tourist area of antique shops and bed-and-breakfast inns, shoots
runoff into nearby Mission Creek. The creek then flows into the ocean at
the popular East Beach. City officials, then, couldn’t allow bacteria
and pollution to get swept up in this busy storm drain.
Santa Barbara officials tackled this problem with their Haley Street
Low Flow Diversion Project, which uses a lift station with submersible
pumps to reroute polluted runoff from the Haley Street storm drain to
the city’s sanitary sewer system, where it can then be treated. The goal
is to both improve water quality and cut down on beach closures.
City officials initiated the project after a Mission Creek Watershed
study revealed high levels of bacteria. Mission Creek is an important
waterway, one of Santa Barbara’s three major creeks, all of which flow
to the ocean. The watersheds surrounding all the creeks are definitely
urban areas, with residential, commercial, and small patches of
industrial development. Roads, parks, and open space also surround the
creeks. The potential for pollution is great.
“Over a number of years, our water-quality monitoring had found high
levels of bacteria coming out of the storm drain during dry weather,”
Zachary says. “The work we did at Haley Street is part of our larger
bacterial reduction program. It was a good location to divert
dry-weather runoff from our storm drain to the sanitary system.”
Haley Street runs alongside Mission Creek, and its storm drain is
located just 20 to 30 feet from its outflow into the creek. Here, the
storm drain line sits lower than does the sewer line. To divert the
water to the sanitary sewer, city officials had to pump the water up a
distance of 5 to 6 feet. To do this, engineers from Oakland, CA–based
URS Corp. ordered a pre-engineered lift station from Romtec Utilities.
The lift station, which Romtec delivered to Haley Street on two large
trucks, includes a precast concrete wet well that measures 6 feet in
diameter and is more than 13 feet deep; two Flygt N series pumps; a
preassembled valve vault; and a UL-listed control panel and pump
disconnect panel. Construction crews closed Haley Street for most of a
day while they installed the lift station.
The system is not complicated to operate, a plus for city officials.
In dry weather, the inlet valve is turned on to trap the flow and pump
it to the sanitary sewer line. In wet weather, the valve is turned off.
The lift station runs from April 1 to October 1, the dry-weather
season in Santa Barbara. During an average day, the station’s electronic
control system records that the pump starts 20 to 40 times, with a
total run time for both pumps of 30 minutes to an hour. City officials
estimate that the station pumps from 9,000 to 18,000 gallons of water
The Haley Street project is just one facet of a larger dry-weather
diversion project that the city is currently running. So far, it’s been
working as city officials had hoped.
“So far, we’ve had no problems,” Zachary says. “We’re happy with the way it has worked.”
Easy to Use
Engineers turn to pumps for less dramatic projects, too. Consider Rumsey
Rancheria, a community of 30 new homes in Brooks, CA. Engineers with
the civil engineering firm of Laugenour & Meikle in 2005 ordered a
lift station from Romtec to empty a stormwater detention pond that
serves the subdivision.
Again, the system is not complicated. Water drains to the
subdivision’s detention pond. The lift station and its pumps then move
the water to a nearby creek, something that couldn’t have been
accomplished if engineers had relied on gravity alone.
Todd Tommeraason, an engineer with Laugenour & Meikle, says the
system’s ease of use is one of its best selling points. “The people from
Romtec basically came out and put it all together for us,” Tommeraason
says. “They hook it up and hand it to you as a running unit. The
contractor didn’t have experience in that area. It was a lot easier for
him to dig the hole, get it set up, and have Romtec come out and hook it
Battling Katrina’s Aftermath
Pumping systems have more than played their part in the ongoing cleanup
efforts in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities hit by Hurricane
Photo: Global Pump
|Whether for emergency cleanup or permanent protection, pumps can take on the job.
For instance, officials in St. Bernard Parish,
located just 5 miles from downtown New Orleans, are relying on 22 pumps
manufactured by Deerfield Beach, FL–based Moving Water Industries. The
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) last December ordered 22 of
the company’s PrimeRite and Hydraflo pumps. The pumps will help move
polluted water out of the area.
“This allows people to move back into their own areas,” says Marc
Boudet, vice president with Moving Water Industries. “They needed to get
the sewage out of that area, and St. Bernard Parish was about 90%
uninhabitable when FEMA contacted us. It’s a good feeling to be able to
The pumps are mobile. After officials are finished pumping sewage out
of St. Bernard Parish, they can move the pumps to other areas.
Sometimes, municipalities call for pumps for extremely rare occurrences.
This happened in 2004 in the city of Sterling Heights, MI. In August
of that year, a sewer line burst under 15 Mile Road, causing a
30-foot-deep sinkhole that stretched 60 feet wide and 160 feet long.
Photo: Global Pump
|Temporary pump installation in Albuquerque
Authorities quickly shut down the road. They also had
to evacuate several families living in the nearby Villa Fontana
To solve the problem, crews injected the ground with concrete. First,
though, they had to call on pumping systems from Davison, MI–based
Global Pump to reroute an estimated 60 million gallons of sewage.
“An enormous chunk of Michigan had fallen into the hole,” says Terry
Lindermere, vice president of engineering with Global Pump. “We were
onsite supplying pumps to pump out manholes on an emergency basis.”
Crews had to lay several thousand feet of bypass piping during
reconstruction work. Global Pump’s pumping systems did the heavy duty of
rerouting the sewer water for the duration of the work, which lasted
until March 2005.
This is far from the only recent pumping projects Global has taken
on. In August 2006, Global sent pumps to Flint, MI, for a
bridge-replacement project. The Michigan Department of Transportation
used eight 250-horsepower diesel-driven Trash Auto Prime pumps from
Global while crews replaced the city’s Chevrolet Avenue bridge. The
pumps allowed water to bypass the 66-inch sewer running through the
bridge’s foundation. To guard against possible heavy storms, seven of
the Global pumps were operating as duty pumps on level control while the
eighth was installed for standby purposes.
In September, the City of Albuquerque, NM, used four
diesel-driven Trash Auto Prime pumps on a sanitary sewer bypass of up to
6,000 gallons per minute. The city needed to continuously bypass an
existing sewer running through residential and commercial areas. Because
of road crossings, four road ramps were specially designed to allow
sewage to flow through them while vehicles drove over them. This allowed
traffic to continue crossing the bypass.
Lindermere says he expects municipalities to keep calling Global for
this kind of project. “Municipalities are always going to need pumps,
for whatever reason,” he says. “When a municipality, for whatever
reason, has its regular pump station down, either on a planned or an
emergency basis, we’ll be supplying pumping equipment to be able to
bypass that plant for the duration of the work. They call on us when
they need us.”
Author's Bio: Dan Rafter is a technical writer and frequent contributor.