Keeping Water Clean and Contained

What do you do when you’re a one-water-tower town, struggling on a shoestring budget and a routine inspection by state officials hands you a report card of multiple, and expensive, repair violations?

Donald Buchanan, town administrator of Hooks, TX, a community of about 4,000 located fifteen miles west of Texarkana on the Arkansas border in northeast Texas, describes his dilemma.

“We have a water tower inspection every year and we got handed a list of things to fix. Fortunately, we had passed a bond issue to do water and street repairs, but the problem with the water tower was a big one.”

Buchanan says it’s likely that “nobody had been inside the water tower since the day it was built in 1968,” but that now, there were cracks and deterioration and the needed repairs would cost the town a hefty bill in citations if left undone.

“Since we only have one water tower, we had to figure out how to deliver water to our people, and still fix the water tower. We can’t turn off water for the three to six months that we needed to do the repairs. The one idea was to put a pump on and then divert the water to a tank, but have it attached to a fire hydrant where a pop-off valve would release pressure when it got too high.”

But this was not a good solution, Buchanan says, “because if we did that, we would lose about $30,000 of water. We have to buy our water from Texarkana and can’t afford to waste it.”

What do you do when you're a one-water-tower town, struggling on a shoestring budget and a routine inspection by state officials hands you a report card of multiple, and expensive, repair violations? Donald Buchanan, town administrator of Hooks, TX, a community of about 4,000 located fifteen miles west of Texarkana on the Arkansas border in northeast Texas, describes his dilemma. "We have a water tower inspection every year and we got handed a list of things to fix. Fortunately, we had passed a bond issue to do water and street repairs, but the problem with the water tower was a big one." Buchanan says it's likely that "nobody had been inside the water tower since the day it was built in 1968," but that now, there were cracks and deterioration and the needed repairs would cost the town a hefty bill in citations if left undone. "Since we only have one water tower, we had to figure out how to deliver water to our people, and still fix the water tower. We can't turn off water for the three to six months that we needed to do the repairs. The one idea was to put a pump on and then divert the water to a tank, but have it attached to a fire hydrant where a pop-off valve would release pressure when it got too high." But this was not a good solution, Buchanan says, "because if we did that, we would lose about $30,000 of water. We have to buy our water from Texarkana and can't afford to waste it." [text_ad] Buchanan says their engineer then heard about what is called a cycle-stop valve, from Russell Hicks of Induron Protective Lining and Coatings, the company whose coatings allowed for a very successful water tower repair. Hicks explains the scenario the town faced at the outset. "Small town funds are tight and when you take a tank out of service to rehab, it's a big production." Hicks says the town had last rehabbed the 300,000 gallon pedesphere tank back in the 1970s so a major facelift was in order. How to Keep the Water On "What we were going to do involved a complete removal of all coatings, then blast it to white metal on the outside, and then blast the inside as well. Then, coat the inside and outside with primer and finish coats. But, before we did anything we had to figure out how to divert the water and provide service. I had run across this variable-frequency device (VFD) called a cycle-stop valve which actually works so well you don't even need a water tower." Hicks says he brought the innovative technology to Kiron Browning of A.L. Franks Engineering who was already working on the project, and Browning introduced the idea to Buchanan and his staff. Beyond the concern for continuous public drinking water supply, the town and engineers also required that there would be enough water for fire suppression during the rehab time. Hicks describes why the cycle-stop valves were the perfect solution to ensure all water needs would be met. "I explained that typically, when you use other VFDs to supply water to the end-user without the use of gravity—like in a water tower—these devices can't manage pressure changes that well, and this can cause water hammer, and blow out pipes. This cycle-stop valve is a continuously regulating device that prevents this. So we installed two of them for the aboveground water holding tank. This diverting process not only saved water, but worked so well nobody in the town knew there was anything different going on with their water delivery." Hicks says these valves, which continuously regulate pressure and amperage, were under $11,000 to purchase and install. They not only allowed work to begin, but saved hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and up to $40,000 in water waste costs. [caption id="attachment_24112" align="alignright" width="300"]
Credit: VERSAFLEXAfter repairing all cracks that were over one-eighth of an inch wide with a concrete repair grout, the contractor primed the concrete surfaces on the 5-million-gallon water tank with VersaFlex VF 20 primer, and applied 80–100 mils of AquaVers 405 pure polyurea. The walls were completed first.[/caption] Cleaning and Coating, Inside and Out The assigned contractor Carey Gould, president of Protective Linings and Coatings in Alexander, AR and his crew then began the huge process of blasting the 5,500 square feet of water tower, inside and out, and coating it with Induron's epoxy products. "It took about two weeks to blast the water tower; we use coal slag for grit and then we blow it off so there is no dust," explains Gould. "Next, we add a zinc primer on the outside, which dries at about 10 mils thick, and that is followed with an Induron finish coat." He says the interior was coated first with Induron's Cerampure TL70 primer which dries at 10 mils thickness, followed by the Cerampure PE70 white for the interior, and that dries to about 6–10 mils in film thickness. But Gould says the painting process is tricky, particularly if the weather doesn't cooperate. "We can't apply coating if the temperature is 5 degrees above the dew point because you'll get condensation—the tank sweats. So we had to take readings every day." Hicks explains that the Induron two-part product has ceramic beads embedded and that is what "gives us our claim to fame." He adds that "the beads give it a non-ablative surface where bacteria can't grow on it, [and] whose superior tensile strength is so impact resistant, you could hammer on it and it won't shatter; it's that tough." There are challenges when painting a water tower containing drinking water that Hicks says arise "from the chlorine in the vapor zone at the high water mark where corrosion from chlorine gases occur." "You want to use a coating that covers and cleans well so you don't have gas getting in pin holes and voids of the coating where rust will start." Hicks says the Induron product, unlike other epoxies, "which are known for running off an edge, and that's where rust starts," shrinks down as it dries to stay put, and dries at the same thickness on edges as the other surfaces. "It has great adhesion properties, which is so critical for this type of project." Buchanan says the whole process was a huge success. "We had a diver go in when they opened the hatch afterwards, and it's so bright you can't see anything! During the painting, we went out and watched, and there was no overspray—the products dried so quick." The new tower was looking so smart as it neared completion that when Gould asked if they wanted to add a logo, the town decided to add the graphic that is used on their patrol cars and other town signage. And Hooks is confident in keeping the water tower full. While much of Texas is faced with water shortages, Buchanan says they are lucky. "It's a funny thing, we are only 130 miles east of Dallas, and they are on rationing and have had a drought for three years." He explains they get their water from Texarkana who get it from Wright Patman Lake, a 32-square mile reservoir originally formed by the Army Corps of Engineers' damming of the Sulphur River, "so we've never been short of water." As to the future of the tower, Buchanan says, "There might be a few touch-ups here and there, but basically we should have a 20 year life with this rehab. The whole process was amazing." This Trial Project Launched a Brand For more than a decade spanning 1996–2006, Bostonians were subjected to endless traffic snarls during the massive "Big Dig"—that many say was "the most reported civil project in the world" as Massachusetts took Interstate's 93 and 90 from above ground to 50 feet below ground, and under water. But the Big Dig, says CEO David Cerchie of VersaFlex, "is how we got our first big break that put us on the map." He explains that the elevated six-lane highway "was designed in 1959 to handle about 60,000 cars a day and now was trying to support more than 200,000 and it was a mess." Staggering Numbers, Historic Engineering The Big Dig, comparable to the building of the Panama Canal and the English Channel Tunnel, excavated 16 cubic yards of soil in building the underground 8–10 lane expressway that used 3.8 million yards of concrete—that's about 2,400 acres of dirt a foot thick. Today, the old site of the aboveground expressway has created more than 45 public parks, downtown redevelopment, and new retail, commercial, and housing developments. But the building of any tunnel underwater presents major challenges in keeping water out during the construction process. Cerchie says at that time, their company had just formulated a dual spray system of their two-part polyurea waterproofing product "that had exceptional resilience underwater." "We did a trial for the Boston highway project and they were so impressed and fell in love with it, so we ended up doing 4 million square feet of waterproofing." Cerchie describes the product as perfect for potable water projects as "all the molecules tie up with each other in this two part chemistry we use, so there is no environmental damage, no leaching to give off something you don't want. Plus, it cures regardless of temperature which makes it perfect for subzero projects such as cold climate conditions and for use in freezers, for example." Because of their versatility and flexibility, the VersaFlex coatings and linings "can save people money when they think they have to scrap a water holding container, even steel ones." "When the bottoms have rusted out, people think 'we'll have to replace this tank.' But we can go in and put down some geotextile, and we'll coat that, and come up the sidewalls, and even if it's supposed to be a short-term fix, we've had situations where they have gotten 10 more years out of their tank for far less money." A Solution for Aging Water Tanks Potable water has typically been stored in huge concrete tanks and reservoirs that can hold millions of gallons of water. But freeze-thaw cracks, and the weight of the water itself can cause worsening conditions and what starts out as a hairline, can open to a one-eighth inch wide fissure when a tank is filled with water. In many cases, epoxies are used to act as a waterproof coating—but lacking flexibility, they are a short-term solution. New technologies in the form of polyurea coatings and linings like VersaFlex offer strength and flexibility, which is exactly why the Redstone Arsenal Public Works Department of Redstone, AL selected VersaFlex for their more than half-century old water tank. According to officials, the 5-million gallon concrete tank, built in 1941 during WWII to supply fire suppression, also supplies back-up drinking water supply for the Huntsville, AL Army base population. But over its long lifetime, the water tank had developed hundreds of cracks and leaks, and was losing water in appreciable amounts, leaving the Army base with the decision to either repair or demolish the tank. Brian Burgess, vice president of Contracting and Materials (C&M) explains the deterioration, and describes the solutions used in repair. "The tank had cracked quite a bit and was losing a significant amount of treated drinking water which is [now] more expensive." Although the Arsenal "had attempted to use different types of liners over the years, it wasn't working." Since the Army base had recently rehabbed a nearby water storage pond with the VersaFlex polyurea product, they thought this would be a solution that could save the existing big tank, plus save the expense of building a new one. Burgess was sold on the ease of use, and reduction of down time when a tank has to be out of service. "The VersaFlex polyurea sets up in seconds and [the tank] can be put back into service as fast as an hour," he says. "It can take days for epoxy to cure enough to do the same. The time saved can provide tremendous savings to a facility." After an application of concrete grout to the cracks that were in excess of an eighth inch, C&M then primed the surfaces with the VF 20 primer, then applied 80–100 mils of Aqua Vers 405 polyurea, first to the walls. Next, the tank floor was cleaned and primed and the final coating applied, making the entire restoration a two-month project. Cerchie says the application involves two lines of different agents "that are heated in individual lines to lower viscosity and then they come out together at the end of the spray gun where it cures instantly upon application. If you didn't do it this way it would already be starting to cure." But the fast cure is what makes the product ideal in the eyes of engineers, says Cerchie. "When we get in front of them they come away from the encounter and are sold because they realize with this [product] there is another solution available. Many coatings are restricted to size, but ours is approved without restriction. We have ASTM testing standards and developed ISO lab-certified products." While it is a cost-effective solution for potable water containment, it is also used across diverse commercial and industrial markets for which Cerchie says it has "potentially thousands of uses." He adds this includes other water-related applications, too. Sensitive to environmental preservation, Cerchie says the product is being used in green roofing "to keep water from leaking into the building, and also as a containment for frack water, which is nasty stuff, and it keeps it away from the watershed. "It is also used extensively in the Marcellus shale region of eastern Ohio to protect big water during mining. These polyurea systems can be used to protect the environment from the inevitable." [caption id="attachment_24113" align="alignleft" width="300"]
Credit: HOOKS, TXTown signage added after water tower renovation[/caption] Harnessing the Power of the Abundant Columbia River In the mid 1900s, the US Department of Interior implemented the Columbia Basin Project through its Department of Reclamation, whose mission is "managing water in the west." The project goals are to provide irrigation from the Columbia River, a significant waterway that receives snow and rainfall from the Rocky Mountains, delivered through an extensive irrigation network. Today this network is the water resource for about 671,000 acres in Washington State. Roger Sonnichsen, Technical Services Assistant Manager of the Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District—one of the three independent nonprofit, quasi-municipalities of the Basin, says their district is comprised of about 250,000 acres of this total, and includes 2,000 miles of canals that were built in the 1950s and 1960s as the conveyance network. The District's irrigation water supports a mix of crops including wheat, alfalfa, corn, and apples. The concrete canals and smaller laterals, however, are subject to an annual maintenance check-up. Sonnichsen estimates the water loss from the canals and laterals to be about 3%, but to correct this problem, construction work must be done in the off season. "We don't run year round and we turn off water at the end of the year to do the improvements and work on the infrastructure. Usually November through February is considered our off season." Most recently, the District used a geomembrane product from Oregon-based BTL Liners to address canal repair needs. The liners were used to correct, "about 2,000 feet of a canal experiencing seepage problems," says Sonnichsen. "We have a large number of miles of canal and we try to do a little bit of the repairs each year." He adds their conveyances range from 6–12 feet wide. Strength and Durability to Last According to Michael R. Baron, President of BTL Liners, their product was a "pioneering breakthrough 34 years ago" when they developed reinforced a polyethylene liner which he says "is the strongest in the business," and can withstand 7–1,200 pounds of puncture resistance per square inch. He says the product durability is due to its being constructed of high-density carbon fibers that are "stronger than steel, and are fabricated in cross-layers that add reinforcement capability." "This durability is enhanced with our UV laminate protection, which is ideal for any tank, reservoir, or water conveyance that is potentially exposed to intense sun for parts of the year." Baron says the UV protection on the liner performs like a "strong sunscreen," and is so durable it carries a 20-year product guarantee. For Quincy-Columbia, the liner panels were cut to size specifications and laid down over the older concrete structure, then those panel seams heat-welded together. Next, they were given a coating of shotcrete, which is a hydraulic applied concrete-like layer that dries and hardens quickly. This left the concrete-like layer as the exposed surface of the canal. This lined/shotcrete solution has a very long life of 20–25 years but only costs about one-tenth of a conventional concrete canal structure. From Nuts to Fish The BTL Liners were also instrumental in keeping a 600-acre Chowchilla, CA pistachio farm in the north San Joaquin valley "in full flower," with the water so crucial to commodity production. The massive 40-acre farm reservoir had originally been constructed over native soil but with relentless drought and sun exposure, water loss supplying the farm was tremendous. When farm owners needed to install a product that would serve a long life under harsh sun-exposure conditions they used the 30-mil, UV laminated geomembrane since the reservoir is only filled for three-fourths of the year during the peak growing andharvesting season, but exposed to the sun the rest of the time. BTL installed a total of 1.8 million square foot of liner over the original soil, with the majority of the panels measuring out at 1 acre. It was a huge project but now 100% of water is contained and conserved and any water lost will be due to evaporation. Baron says they offer several BTL potable water grade liners that can be used in multiple settings. These can benefit municipalities on a tight budget with failing storage tanks, or smaller water systems that are in need of repair. "Old cisterns, for example that are deteriorated can be lined and given new life." He adds there are exciting new uses for the liners "in innovative scenarios such as hydroponics and aquaculture." "You can raise fish in the lined water tanks, and use the fish waste as nutrients for plants such as lettuces on top. Nothing goes to waste—it's like a perpetual motion machine!" 

Buchanan says their engineer then heard about what is called a cycle-stop valve, from Russell Hicks of Induron Protective Lining and Coatings, the company whose coatings allowed for a very successful water tower repair. Hicks explains the scenario the town faced at the outset.

“Small town funds are tight and when you take a tank out of service to rehab, it’s a big production.”

Hicks says the town had last rehabbed the 300,000 gallon pedesphere tank back in the 1970s so a major facelift was in order.

How to Keep the Water On
“What we were going to do involved a complete removal of all coatings, then blast it to white metal on the outside, and then blast the inside as well. Then, coat the inside and outside with primer and finish coats. But, before we did anything we had to figure out how to divert the water and provide service. I had run across this variable-frequency device (VFD) called a cycle-stop valve which actually works so well you don’t even need a water tower.”

Hicks says he brought the innovative technology to Kiron Browning of A.L. Franks Engineering who was already working on the project, and Browning introduced the idea to Buchanan and his staff. Beyond the concern for continuous public drinking water supply, the town and engineers also required that there would be enough water for fire suppression during the rehab time. Hicks describes why the cycle-stop valves were the perfect solution to ensure all water needs would be met.

“I explained that typically, when you use other VFDs to supply water to the end-user without the use of gravity—like in a water tower—these devices can’t manage pressure changes that well, and this can cause water hammer, and blow out pipes. This cycle-stop valve is a continuously regulating device that prevents this. So we installed two of them for the aboveground water holding tank. This diverting process not only saved water, but worked so well nobody in the town knew there was anything different going on with their water delivery.”

Hicks says these valves, which continuously regulate pressure and amperage, were under $11,000 to purchase and install. They not only allowed work to begin, but saved hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and up to $40,000 in water waste costs.

Credit: VERSAFLEX
After repairing all cracks that were over one-eighth of an inch wide with a concrete repair grout, the contractor primed the concrete surfaces on the 5-million-gallon water tank with VersaFlex VF 20 primer, and applied 80–100 mils of AquaVers 405 pure polyurea. The walls were completed first.

Cleaning and Coating, Inside and Out
The assigned contractor Carey Gould, president of Protective Linings and Coatings in Alexander, AR and his crew then began the huge process of blasting the 5,500 square feet of water tower, inside and out, and coating it with Induron’s epoxy products.

“It took about two weeks to blast the water tower; we use coal slag for grit and then we blow it off so there is no dust,” explains Gould. “Next, we add a zinc primer on the outside, which dries at about 10 mils thick, and that is followed with an Induron finish coat.”

He says the interior was coated first with Induron’s Cerampure TL70 primer which dries at 10 mils thickness, followed by the Cerampure PE70 white for the interior, and that dries to about 6–10 mils in film thickness.

But Gould says the painting process is tricky, particularly if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

“We can’t apply coating if the temperature is 5 degrees above the dew point because you’ll get condensation—the tank sweats. So we had to take readings every day.”

Hicks explains that the Induron two-part product has ceramic beads embedded and that is what “gives us our claim to fame.” He adds that “the beads give it a non-ablative surface where bacteria can’t grow on it, [and] whose superior tensile strength is so impact resistant, you could hammer on it and it won’t shatter; it’s that tough.”

There are challenges when painting a water tower containing drinking water that Hicks says arise “from the chlorine in the vapor zone at the high water mark where corrosion from chlorine gases occur.”

“You want to use a coating that covers and cleans well so you don’t have gas getting in pin holes and voids of the coating where rust will start.”

Hicks says the Induron product, unlike other epoxies, “which are known for running off an edge, and that’s where rust starts,” shrinks down as it dries to stay put, and dries at the same thickness on edges as the other surfaces. “It has great adhesion properties, which is so critical for this type of project.”

Buchanan says the whole process was a huge success. “We had a diver go in when they opened the hatch afterwards, and it’s so bright you can’t see anything! During the painting, we went out and watched, and there was no overspray—the products dried so quick.”

The new tower was looking so smart as it neared completion that when Gould asked if they wanted to add a logo, the town decided to add the graphic that is used on their patrol cars and other town signage.

And Hooks is confident in keeping the water tower full. While much of Texas is faced with water shortages, Buchanan says they are lucky.

“It’s a funny thing, we are only 130 miles east of Dallas, and they are on rationing and have had a drought for three years.” He explains they get their water from Texarkana who get it from Wright Patman Lake, a 32-square mile reservoir originally formed by the Army Corps of Engineers’ damming of the Sulphur River, “so we’ve never been short of water.”

As to the future of the tower, Buchanan says, “There might be a few touch-ups here and there, but basically we should have a 20 year life with this rehab. The whole process was amazing.”

This Trial Project Launched a Brand
For more than a decade spanning 1996–2006, Bostonians were subjected to endless traffic snarls during the massive “Big Dig”—that many say was “the most reported civil project in the world” as Massachusetts took Interstate’s 93 and 90 from above ground to 50 feet below ground, and under water.

But the Big Dig, says CEO David Cerchie of VersaFlex, “is how we got our first big break that put us on the map.”

He explains that the elevated six-lane highway “was designed in 1959 to handle about 60,000 cars a day and now was trying to support more than 200,000 and it was a mess.”

Staggering Numbers, Historic Engineering
The Big Dig, comparable to the building of the Panama Canal and the English Channel Tunnel, excavated 16 cubic yards of soil in building the underground 8–10 lane expressway that used 3.8 million yards of concrete—that’s about 2,400 acres of dirt a foot thick. Today, the old site of the aboveground expressway has created more than 45 public parks, downtown redevelopment, and new retail, commercial, and housing developments.

But the building of any tunnel underwater presents major challenges in keeping water out during the construction process. Cerchie says at that time, their company had just formulated a dual spray system of their two-part polyurea waterproofing product “that had exceptional resilience underwater.”

“We did a trial for the Boston highway project and they were so impressed and fell in love with it, so we ended up doing 4 million square feet of waterproofing.”

Cerchie describes the product as perfect for potable water projects as “all the molecules tie up with each other in this two part chemistry we use, so there is no environmental damage, no leaching to give off something you don’t want. Plus, it cures regardless of temperature which makes it perfect for subzero projects such as cold climate conditions and for use in freezers, for example.”

Because of their versatility and flexibility, the VersaFlex coatings and linings “can save people money when they think they have to scrap a water holding container, even steel ones.”

“When the bottoms have rusted out, people think ‘we’ll have to replace this tank.’ But we can go in and put down some geotextile, and we’ll coat that, and come up the sidewalls, and even if it’s supposed to be a short-term fix, we’ve had situations where they have gotten 10 more years out of their tank for far less money.”

A Solution for Aging Water Tanks
Potable water has typically been stored in huge concrete tanks and reservoirs that can hold millions of gallons of water. But freeze-thaw cracks, and the weight of the water itself can cause worsening conditions and what starts out as a hairline, can open to a one-eighth inch wide fissure when a tank is filled with water.

In many cases, epoxies are used to act as a waterproof coating—but lacking flexibility, they are a short-term solution.

New technologies in the form of polyurea coatings and linings like VersaFlex offer strength and flexibility, which is exactly why the Redstone Arsenal Public Works Department of Redstone, AL selected VersaFlex for their more than half-century old water tank.

According to officials, the 5-million gallon concrete tank, built in 1941 during WWII to supply fire suppression, also supplies back-up drinking water supply for the Huntsville, AL Army base population. But over its long lifetime, the water tank had developed hundreds of cracks and leaks, and was losing water in appreciable amounts, leaving the Army base with the decision to either repair or demolish the tank.

Brian Burgess, vice president of Contracting and Materials (C&M) explains the deterioration, and describes the solutions used in repair.

“The tank had cracked quite a bit and was losing a significant amount of treated drinking water which is [now] more expensive.” Although the Arsenal “had attempted to use different types of liners over the years, it wasn’t working.”

Since the Army base had recently rehabbed a nearby water storage pond with the VersaFlex polyurea product, they thought this would be a solution that could save the existing big tank, plus save the expense of building a new one. Burgess was sold on the ease of use, and reduction of down time when a tank has to be out of service.

“The VersaFlex polyurea sets up in seconds and [the tank] can be put back into service as fast as an hour,” he says. “It can take days for epoxy to cure enough to do the same. The time saved can provide tremendous savings to a facility.”

After an application of concrete grout to the cracks that were in excess of an eighth inch, C&M then primed the surfaces with the VF 20 primer, then applied 80–100 mils of Aqua Vers 405 polyurea, first to the walls. Next, the tank floor was cleaned and primed and the final coating applied, making the entire restoration a two-month project.

Cerchie says the application involves two lines of different agents “that are heated in individual lines to lower viscosity and then they come out together at the end of the spray gun where it cures instantly upon application. If you didn’t do it this way it would already be starting to cure.”

But the fast cure is what makes the product ideal in the eyes of engineers, says Cerchie.

“When we get in front of them they come away from the encounter and are sold because they realize with this [product] there is another solution available. Many coatings are restricted to size, but ours is approved without restriction. We have ASTM testing standards and developed ISO lab-certified products.”

While it is a cost-effective solution for potable water containment, it is also used across diverse commercial and industrial markets for which Cerchie says it has “potentially thousands of uses.” He adds this includes other water-related applications, too. Sensitive to environmental preservation, Cerchie says the product is being used in green roofing “to keep water from leaking into the building, and also as a containment for frack water, which is nasty stuff, and it keeps it away from the watershed.

“It is also used extensively in the Marcellus shale region of eastern Ohio to protect big water during mining. These polyurea systems can be used to protect the environment from the inevitable.”

Credit: HOOKS, TX
Town signage added after water tower renovation

Harnessing the Power of the Abundant Columbia River
In the mid 1900s, the US Department of Interior implemented the Columbia Basin Project through its Department of Reclamation, whose mission is “managing water in the west.” The project goals are to provide irrigation from the Columbia River, a significant waterway that receives snow and rainfall from the Rocky Mountains, delivered through an extensive irrigation network. Today this network is the water resource for about 671,000 acres in Washington State.

Roger Sonnichsen, Technical Services Assistant Manager of the Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District—one of the three independent nonprofit, quasi-municipalities of the Basin, says their district is comprised of about 250,000 acres of this total, and includes 2,000 miles of canals that were built in the 1950s and 1960s as the conveyance network. The District’s irrigation water supports a mix of crops including wheat, alfalfa, corn, and apples.

The concrete canals and smaller laterals, however, are subject to an annual maintenance check-up. Sonnichsen estimates the water loss from the canals and laterals to be about 3%, but to correct this problem, construction work must be done in the off season.

“We don’t run year round and we turn off water at the end of the year to do the improvements and work on the infrastructure. Usually November through February is considered our off season.”

Most recently, the District used a geomembrane product from Oregon-based BTL Liners to address canal repair needs. The liners were used to correct, “about 2,000 feet of a canal experiencing seepage problems,” says Sonnichsen.

“We have a large number of miles of canal and we try to do a little bit of the repairs each year.” He adds their conveyances range from 6–12 feet wide.

Strength and Durability to Last
According to Michael R. Baron, President of BTL Liners, their product was a “pioneering breakthrough 34 years ago” when they developed reinforced a polyethylene liner which he says “is the strongest in the business,” and can withstand 7–1,200 pounds of puncture resistance per square inch. He says the product durability is due to its being constructed of high-density carbon fibers that are “stronger than steel, and are fabricated in cross-layers that add reinforcement capability.”

“This durability is enhanced with our UV laminate protection, which is ideal for any tank, reservoir, or water conveyance that is potentially exposed to intense sun for parts of the year.” Baron says the UV protection on the liner performs like a “strong sunscreen,” and is so durable it carries a 20-year product guarantee.

For Quincy-Columbia, the liner panels were cut to size specifications and laid down over the older concrete structure, then those panel seams heat-welded together. Next, they were given a coating of shotcrete, which is a hydraulic applied concrete-like layer that dries and hardens quickly. This left the concrete-like layer as the exposed surface of the canal.

This lined/shotcrete solution has a very long life of 20–25 years but only costs about one-tenth of a conventional concrete canal structure.

From Nuts to Fish
The BTL Liners were also instrumental in keeping a 600-acre Chowchilla, CA pistachio farm in the north San Joaquin valley “in full flower,” with the water so crucial to commodity production. The massive 40-acre farm reservoir had originally been constructed over native soil but with relentless drought and sun exposure, water loss supplying the farm was tremendous. When farm owners needed to install a product that would serve a long life under harsh sun-exposure conditions they used the 30-mil, UV laminated geomembrane since the reservoir is only filled for three-fourths of the year during the peak growing andharvesting season, but exposed to the sun the rest of the time.

BTL installed a total of 1.8 million square foot of liner over the original soil, with the majority of the panels measuring out at 1 acre. It was a huge project but now 100% of water is contained and conserved and any water lost will be due to evaporation.

Baron says they offer several BTL potable water grade liners that can be used in multiple settings. These can benefit municipalities on a tight budget with failing storage tanks, or smaller water systems that are in need of repair. “Old cisterns, for example that are deteriorated can be lined and given new life.” He adds there are exciting new uses for the liners “in innovative scenarios such as hydroponics and aquaculture.”

“You can raise fish in the lined water tanks, and use the fish waste as nutrients for plants such as lettuces on top. Nothing goes to waste—it’s like a perpetual motion machine!” 
About the Author

Barbara Hesselgrave

Barbara Hesselgrave is a writer specializing in environmental topics.

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