Credit: Photo: Thompson Pump

This shows one of 10 permanent Thompson Pump emergency backup pumps used by Regional Utilities in Walton County, Fla. The pumps are equipped with automatic start/stop systems.

What do you do with all the water that collects in your area after a large rain event or hurricane? Regional Utilities Inc., Santa Rosa, Fla., proactively established lift station backup systems for the Florida communities they service. The company is a regional provider of water and sewer services to Walton County, Fla., operating 125 lift stations and serving several hundred thousand residents in the gulf coast area.

Regional Utilities began researching power alternatives about four years ago after Hurricane Opal struck the Florida panhandle. The powerful hurricane caused power outages and heavy damage to several of the company's lift stations. Lightning strikes and damage to generator control panels prevented backup generators from operating.

Dewey Wilson, general manager for Regional Utilities, researched the possibility of permanent, hard-piped, diesel engine-driven pumps as emergency backups for the lift stations. He contacted Rick Waters with Thompson Pump in Pensacola, Fla., to find out if he could secure pumps that would automatically start after a shutdown or failure at any of the company's master lift stations. Waters advised that the pumps would have to able to prime fast enough to prevent lift station overflows and handle the estimated capacities for each of the lift stations. In addition, the automatic start system would have to be simple enough to lie in wait for a long period, but reliable enough to guarantee starting the pumps.

“We've had several utilities purchase pumps from us for portable lift station backups, but this was the first time that we had a permanent application,” said Waters. Waters recommended self-priming, solids-handling pumps with dry-priming systems and automatic start/stop capability. The automatic start/stop systems would operate with floats that turned the pumps on when fluid levels rose and turned them off when fluid levels fell. The pumps would be permanently installed at the 10 master lift station locations, with piping installed to provide suction and discharge.

The big test for this permanent backup system using Thompson pumps came in August and September of 2004. One hurricane after another blasted through Florida, and each took out local power in the areas they hit. However, Regional Utilities' backup pumps kicked into gear and maintained the utility's service through each siege.

Since installing the Thompson pumps, Regional Utilities performs periodic maintenance to keep the pumps in top condition. “All we ever do is start them occasionally and check on the batteries,” said Wilson. “We use solar battery chargers to keep the batteries fully charged.” Regional also uses the pumps to perform occasional lift station repairs.

Brad Fine is with Thompson Pump in Port Orange, Fla.