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The Smart Water People

water | wastewater | sewage

Prepare Your Water Treatment Plant For the Next Cyclone

November 5th, 2017

With the wet season fast approaching, it’s a good time to check over the cyclone plan for your water treatment plant. Why? Water is one of the most critical pieces of infrastructure that can be damaged during these events.

In fact, your company and the general population can be impacted by what you do now to prepare. There are steps which should be considered before and after a cyclone hits. Consider what happens if your plant breaks down and how you would get it up and running as quickly as possible.

A great way to start is to think through the different possible failures that could occur. Let’s have a look.


Critical failure of critical plant. 

Examples of this would include:

  • The control room floods.
  • The ground beneath a clarifier’s concrete slab is eroded causing significant structural damage.
  • Or the main feed line into your plant is ruptured.


The outcome from these failures is the plant shuts down. Solutions to this include:

  • Temporary treatment systems are mobilised in the form of containerised plants.
  • Other equipment in the network takes up the extra load.
  • Waste water treatment plants may need to use sucker trucks to remove waste (at considerable cost).


What are some other ways a critical failure could happen on your plant?

Major failure on important plant.

Examples of this include:

  • Pump room gets wet, which stops most pumps in the room.
  • Dissolved oxygen sensors fail at sewage treatment plant. No spares available.
  • Clarifier weirs dislodged by fallen branch.
  • Level transmitter fails on potable water tanks at drinking plant.

The outcome from these failures is the plant is at high risk of shutting down.
Solutions to this include:

  • Air freight parts in. This is a costly exercise. 
  • If critical spares are available (which they should), replace the parts safely.

What are other ways your plant could be put at a higher risk of failure?

Minor equipment damage on plant. 
Examples of this include:

  • Debris damages power feed into plant (it’s assumed that the local power authority will prioritise getting your plant back up and running). If not, this can be a major failure.

The outcome from these failures is the plant is at low risk of shutting down. Solutions to this include:

  • Assess the damage. Get expert help to determine if the damage could escalate quickly.

Make a plan for each of these possible failures. Doing this will help you feel more confident when a cyclone hits. Because if your plant fails there will be repercussions that will affect your business, the community and the environment.

With your plan of how to tackle the failure of your plant, it’s also worthwhile considering how you can physical prepare your team beforehand.


Cyclone Preparation Checklist

Before a cyclone hits check:

  • Critical spares are available;
  • Your team is equipped to clean-up and restart the plant. Special items may include: disinfection solution in spray bottles (for hand clean-up); shovels, brooms, rags (for drying sodden equipment), first aid kits;
  • Batteries full for hand tools;
  • Adequate amount of rugged gloves;
  • Handheld water quality instruments are available;
  • Generators fueled and ready for critical equipment;
  • UPS batteries are fully charged and not in fault;
  • the O&M Manual is available to prepare for re-starting the plant;
  • For biological plants, make sure you’ve got adequate sugar/molasses/food for the activated sludge to handle the downtime coming;
  • Environmental authorities contact details in the event of accidental spills;
  • Consider how freight transport being blocked for a week would affect your chemical supply;

Image courtesy of Rexness via Flickr.

Safety should be at the forefront of our minds, particularly after a cyclone as clean-up can be riddled with hidden hazards.

Planning The Cleanup

After a cyclone hits be aware of;

  • Structural integrity of equipment, plants and buildings. This may require Structural Engineer – we can assist with this.
  • Animals in unusual places (crocs, snakes, spiders)
  • Settled bodies of water (puddles on the ground or stored in tanks)
  • Contaminated water, particularly around a sewage treatment plant
  • Electrified water
  • Signs of damage on equipment, pay special attention to tanks and any escaping water

Image courtesy of Air Force Magazine via Flickr.

Be vigilant with safety. Even though there’s an urgency to get the plant back up and running this cannot be at the expense of safety. Safety is paramount.


Re-starting the plant

As you begin to re-start the plant, consider the following.

Survey the site

  • Is everything where it should be? Is anything missing? Has soil eroded under structures?

Refer to start-up procedures

  • Given it’s not often the plant would be fully shutdown, check over your start-up procedures.

Electrical testing

  • Get the electricians to begin testing the electrical system. Once electrical testing has completed, begin manually turning on the equipment.

Test your water

  • Assume the worst. If it’s for drinking water, assume everything is tainted. Start from scratch.

Look for unusual readings

  • Have operators familiar with the plant begin checking the instrument values. Sometimes instruments can look fine, but have water damage still. Assume instruments have water in them until you can confirm otherwise.

There will also be issues that are specific to the raw water in your plant and the treated water. Consider the following for your raw water.

  • In the days that come STPs can expect less concentrated sewage coming in due to leakage from stormwater. Consider how you’ll keep the microbiology alive.
  • The raw water for drinking water plants could have a whole range of problems. Heavy rain events will often see a spike in suspended solids for surface water sources. Unusual heavy metals can be eroded from river beds washed into these sources as well. Salinity can increase with the storm surges.

Specific treated water issues include:

  • Check the quality of stored water. There’s a chance it could be contaminated.
  • Think about what could possibly have fallen into open topped tanks and clarifiers. Debris like branches and corrugated iron.


Plan for what could fail

A benefit of planning is the awareness it brings. Being aware of potential equipment failures could mean the difference between having a part on-hand and having to air-freight it in.

Anticipate the following equipment failures;

Water damage:

  • Escaping water can eroded land and then expose electrical conduits. Chemicals becoming tainted with water and bunds can fill with water

Wet electrical equipment:

  • Pump motors, sensor housings, and electrical panels are not friends with water.

Wind damage:

  • Damaged equipment from direct winds; aerials, sensors, lids, vents in control panels, fallen trees, roof flashing.

Thinking through these possible failures, will give you a good sense of the likely repairs you’ll need to do. This will give you a jump start on getting the clean-up sorted.

There will be times you need outside help. Whether it is extra hands that understand water treatment. Whether it is specific parts being freighted to you. Or whether it is temporary plants to get you out of trouble.

We can help in these situations. Whether you want to discuss your plans, or understand lead times on critical equipment or feel comfortable knowing there is an expert available on the phone.

Ultimately though, this isn’t about us, cyclones are about getting through a challenge with the least amount of drama. It’s times like these local communities band together to help each other out. If this article has helped your plans then that’s fantastic. Feel free to pay it forward by adding your experiences with cyclones. The lessons you’ve learned may just help save someone else in a similar situation as you. Add your stories in the comments below.

MAK Water, the smart water people, are dedicated to helping municipal and industrial operations with their water, wastewater and sewage requirements, via the provision of high performing water treatment plants and ongoing maintenance support. We have developed a reputation for delivering superior service and solutions in order to enable our clients to reduce operating costs and extend equipment operating life.