Northern Plain States Flooded: Caterpillar Rental Power to the RescueWritten by Kent Smith Thursday, 15 November 2007 14:25
After the relentless flooding of the Red River finally subsided in Spring of ‘97, people of the Northern Plain states, living in the 250-mile path of destruction it left behind, had only two thoughts: thanks for the readily available temporary power to help get life back to normal as quickly as possible – and good riddance to the destructive record flood!
Grand Forks, ND, was among the hardest hit communities of the flood, which began in March and finally ended in late April of 1997. When flood-waters breached a levee on the Red River in Grand Forks on April 19, officials determined there was no stopping the forces of nature. Shortly thereafter, 60 percent of the city, which covers 10 1/2 square miles, was under water. As a result, most of the city’s 50,000 residents were driven from their homes.
At the Grand Forks Water Treatment Plant, temporary power played a critical role in restoring water to the 70,000 residents in and around Grand Forks after it was flooded under 3 feet of water and forced to shut down to avoid contamination. When the waters began to recede eight days after the city was evacuated, officials returned to the water plant to find the plant’s primary transformers, motor control center and backup generator under 3 feet of water. In addition, utility lines feeding the water plant were inoperable.
"Our permanent power sources were simply gone and we realized immediately that temporary power was the only solution to overcoming this unprecedented challenge," says Hazel Sletten, superintendent of the Grand Forks Water Treatment Plant. "Because temporary power equipment was in such demand, we didn’t expect much when we put a call into the local Cat Rental Power dealer to access the equipment we needed. However, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that it wouldn’t be a problem for us."
Within two days after Grand Forks made the call for temporary power, the first of five gen sets supplied by Cat Rental Power began to arrive at the water plant, which consist of two separate pumping operations and a treatment facility. The gen sets, which ranged from 50 kW to 600 kW each, were immediately used for pumping floodwater out of the plant. At the same time, the extent of the damage and the time and resources needed for repair, dictated the need to bypass the motor control center and supply power directly to the treatment plant and one of the two pumping operations. The gen sets also provided power, which allowed crews to work around the clock repairing the motor control center and other damaged electrical distribution equipment that would be needed when utility power was restored.
On May 1, 12 days after the plant had been shut down and three days after the mobile gen sets arrived on site, the plant was operating at half capacity on temporary power, supplying 5 million gallons of water per day, as planned.
"To say temporary power was critical is an understatement because it gave us the capability to check for damage to our electrical distribution system, begin the city water system disinfecting process and supply water for fire-protection purposes. It also gave people the opportunity to begin the process of getting back to normal life, which includes the ability to flush toilets, take showers, do laundry and begin cleaning up," says Sletten.
In addition to meeting life safety needs and everyday essentials, the city’s water supply was also necessary for Grand Forks businesses, including a potato processing company that uses 2 million gallons of water daily.
"If we didn’t get water restored to that company, thousands of potatoes would have rotted, making a very bad situation even worse," she says. "Many other companies were also in similar situations."
Throughout May, the plant continued to meet the city’s basic needs by operating on temporary power, even though utility power was restored to the majority of the water treatment plant. By mid-June, the plant was fully operational and 100 percent of the city’s water needs were being met. At that time, gen sets were disconnected and utility power began powering the water plant.
"Without the availability of temporary power, residents to Grand Forks would have had to wait for weeks to begin the process of getting back to normal life. In a situation like this, temporary power played a critical role in allowing us to alleviate the hardships this city had to endure," Sletten concludes.
Kent Smith is with the Caterpillar Engine Division of Caterpillar, Inc.