Sunday, January 31, 2016
This morning my shower siphoned my toilet. Somehow the cross-connection backflow had gone bonkers. This is the what backflow means:
Later in the day, the problem ended. This is our first week without one of our city workers, the one who was in charge of “dirty” water. Could that be the problem or is my house trying to do me in -- again? The two aspects of the town’s piping is one that brings the potable (clean enough to drink) water into the house and one that carries the used water out to the sewage lagoon. In the past the two men had divided the work between them with the dirty water being managed by Roger, who was wooed away by a different town. I don’t know whether this backflow problem was about “dirty” or “clean” water but it hardly matters since now one guy must do both. His health is not good. Water masters are in short supply. City employees here take so much criticism and second-guessing that it won’t be easy to hire.
Clearly, we citizens need to get informed about managing small town water systems very quickly. Luckily the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has posted on YouTube a whole series about this, called “Managing a Small Town Public Water System”. The link above is to the fifth vid in the series. It’s not the only YouTube series about such practical matters. Other towns also register advice, and I’ve begun watching them all. I realized what a great household resource YouTube is when my toilet shut-off valve wore out months ago and the replacement wasn’t the familiar bulb-on-an-arm I’d dealt with before, but rather some puzzling tube thing.
Maybe no one realizes how much maintenance and management a water system needs. We have two water-towers now, four wells, different kinds of pumps, and several miles of “tubing” through the town and out to the sewage lagoon. All this stuff is vulnerable to weather, usage, and small disasters like pipe collapse. There’s a lot of checking, adjusting, and just monitoring.
This lady speaks about the planetary version of water distribution and says there is always the same amount of water on Earth. I had no idea. It changes states (vapor, liquid, fluid) but not amount. I keep having realizations: like water towers are only needed if there’s no hill to get the water tank up high for gravity flow. This is an excellent thing to remember if you’re siting a new town. Heart Butte, Cut Bank, Shelby and Conrad all have that advantage.
When I first came to Browning in 1961, the water system was poorly understood. One tank was up by Parsons -- you could see it along highway 89 -- and a water tower was a few blocks from me. The line between the two had just been reinstalled without an engineer, so the trench had been dug a certain depth, the pipe was put in and connected, but because it followed the contours of the land, it airlocked all the time. Most of it had been dug up and realigned. The water tower itself was sometimes filled with a pump turned on by hand and sometimes the operator forgot to come back and turn off the pump on time, so that it overflowed. The sound always made met think it had begun to rain, usually at night when no one was drawing water.
All water distribution systems vary in pressure, which is much of what has to be watched and adjusted. A water master must be in town 24/7 to deal with emergencies from broken pipes or failed pumps. That’s why there are two.
One takes classes to learn about how to become a “water master” who is certified to manage a town water system. This website provides news about the tests and YouTube practice questions. http://mostwatertraining.com “MOST” stands for McLean's Operational Services Training. There are specific variations in various locations.
One that struck me right off was the one about “blue baby syndrome” which is about nitrates that get into the water systems, particularly when there is a lot of nitrate use for fertilizer in conjunction with irrigation. Once I helped deliver a calf with nitrate in it’s system: it lived only as long as the mother’s oxygen was in its blood. Nitrates replace hemoglobin, producing chemical suffocation. The calf seemed fine but with a minute was inert -- no convulsions, no bleeding, no wound. Just dead. I hope local obstetricians check for nitrates in the mother’s blood as a standard part of prenatal care. I know of one ranch well that was contaminated. There was a pregnant female in the family.
By now I’ve subscribed to three separate u-tube “flows” of information about town water systems. No one is going to hire a tubby old lady to be a water master, but maybe I’ll take the exam just to see whether I could pass it. The fees cost a few hundreds of dollars. The problem we’ve got here is that $15 an hour is not enough to attract a prepared water master, so we would have to take a chance on fronting the money for the tests -- the state allows six months to a year to pass -- for someone who might not pass or might get discouraged and quit.
These YouTubes are called “virtual training” rather than “online education.” They tend to be practical demonstrations, video courses that ought to prepare one for the state exam. Each of the following (which is the list of lessons offered by MOST) costs $10, which should be added to the cost of the test. As you can see, this is not the same as turning a garden hose on and off. Skills needed are chemistry, geology, hydrology, but -- most of all -- math. Roger has needed marksmanship in order to remove muskrats who burrow through the outer earth wall, threatening to drain the lagoon.
The factor that haunts us here is extreme low temps. After we failed our coliform tests repeatedly last winter, we had to add a cover and circulation pumps to keep the “bugs” warm enough to digest waste. It’s just being finished. The state requires engineers because too many amateurs think things are simple when they are not. But engineers slip up, too. I don’t know what their excuse is, but it’s not helpful when they come from some other ecology.
Some of these water master subjects may seem a little exotic. The one about iron and manganese treatment is what made reservation water impossible to use for dialysis -- when chlorine hit, it precipitated into little black dots. It was an expensive struggle to find a local clean water source, but a necessary one to keep people from having to travel a hundred miles to a dialysis center several times a week. We used to joke about the local water guy in 1990 in Heart Butte -- which was either before the state standards were passed or so remote a community that no one checked. If he needed to go to town and wouldn’t be there to dump in the chlorine that day, he just dumped in double, figuring that it would average out. Sometimes the teachers looked a little pale, but we were “pale faces” anyway. (Jokes. I’ve learned to mark my jokes since some people mistake them for insults.) We were constantly afflicted by low-grade GI upsets.
The Hydrologic Cycle
Chloramines in the Distribution System
Back flow and cross connections
Flow Rate Calculation
Velocity Calculation, Friction, and Hydraulic Grade Lines
Chemical Feed Calculations: The Pounds Formula
Chemical Feed Calculations: Chlorination (2 parts
Static Hydraulics: Density, Specific Gravity, and Pressure
Activated Carbon Adsorption
Iron and Manganese Treatment
The Nature of Water
Microbiology for Operators
The Total Coliform Rule and Measuring Coliforms
General Source Water Characteristics
The Surface Water Treatment Rule
Filtration (2 parts)
The Valier water system does not only serve the residents. Some ranches have no well, so they must come into town to fill up giant tanks that can be emptied into their underground cisterns. Aside from household use, they mix the water with herbicides and fertilizer as well as watering livestock. A little tricky when it’s thirty below. Of course, anyone who comes to church, school, cafe, service station is using the town water system. We are learning to think of the town as the center of a wider area that is a service area, like the gas, the telephone lines, the electricity. Water is the key to life itself, but distribution and use are what turn the key.
Water key to cities’ success through Montana history
- By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian Jan 9, 2011 0
If you want to know the history of Montana cities, follow the water.
It's not a coincidence that most of the state's first successful businesses were determined by who got the water. Whether it was Nelson Story setting up the Bozeman Waterworks Co. to power his grain mill and eventually selling it to the town (after he became mayor), or Copper King Marcus Daly building a reservoir on Skalkaho Creek to serve budding Hamilton, water has been a key to future fortune.
Missoula is the only major city in Montana that doesn't own its water supply. Although the first waterworks was started by founding fathers C.P. Higgins and Frank Worden, the company was soon bought by Butte copper magnate W.A. Clark and never left private hands.
Now, in the wake of The Carlyle Group's announcement that it will buy Missoula's privately held water company, Mountain Water Co., residents have asked why - and how - the city wound up without public ownership of its drinking water.
Last week, the Missoulian contacted officials in other Montana cities to hear their stories and found a mixed past of private and public ownership.
Consider the following:
Retired water system manager David Schultz observed: "When most towns and cities are planned and settled, a major consideration is what the source of drinking water will be. Most cities are located near a river or lake or some other water source. However, Butte's location was determined by the presence of mining opportunities."
Putting a city in a basin 5,000 feet above sea level and almost on the Continental Divide guaranteed water troubles. Having mining for a major industry exacerbated the problem. Silver Bow Creek, the basin's only significant water source, was poisoned with mining waste soon after the area was settled.
In 1890, most of Butte's water needs came from the railroads. But in the next few years, increasing mining activity demanded more water. Copper King W.A. Clark built the Butte City Water Co., and soon sold it to Boston-Montana Mining Co. President A.S. Bigelow for $300,000. By 1899, that company was bankrupt and needed a $1 million loan to keep going.
It was also busily developing a pumping system that brought water from the Big Hole River, nearly 1,000 feet lower in elevation. The Anaconda Mining Co. and later Atlantic Richfield Co. owned the system until Missoula industrialist Dennis Washington bought it in 1985. He sold it to the city-county government in 1992.
Private builders started Great Falls' city water supply in the 1850s, according to present-day water plant manager Mike Jacobson. The city bought it in 1895.
But across the Missouri River, the community of Black Eagle had its own water system, built and owned by the Anaconda Mining Co.
"When they shut down, we had to run a water main extension across to Black Eagle, Jacobson said. "Now we're serving the city of Great Falls, Black Eagle and Malmstrom Air Force Base, pulling it all out of the river."
Local businessmen set up Billings' first water system in 1885. Their original Billings Water Power Co. depended on an 80-horsepower waterwheel to generate electricity, and a pump that sent 150,000 gallons a day of untreated Yellowstone River water to the city. The city government bought it in 1915 for $315,000, according to a history recap on the city's website.
Nelson Story left his family name all over the Bozeman basin. After leading the cattle drive fictionalized in the story "Lonesome Dove," he set up a grain mill in Bozeman and powered it with water from the Lyman Creek spring, according to city water and sewer superintendent John Alston. He expanded the system into a municipal water supply, the Bozeman Waterworks Co. When he became mayor of Bozeman in 1900, he arranged for the city to buy his system.
Alston said the city eventually outgrew the Lyman Creek supply, and now depends on Hyalite Lake and Sourdough Creek to keep the taps flowing.
"Water is going to be a limit to growth here," he said. "We're in the process of obtaining additional water rights."
The Yaw Yaw ditch delivered Helena's first municipal water supply in 1864. According to the city's history archive, the name was the reply to the question: "Should we build a ditch?"
The Helena Water Works was owned by a New Jersey company until 1910, when the company went bankrupt and the city acquired it for $400,000. Wooden pipes ran the water from Grizzly Gulch and Dry Gulch (now Davis Street). William Chessman built a reservoir on Ten Mile Creek and extended a water line to the city in 1921. The 1935 earthquake dried up the Dry Gulch supply and forced several rearrangements of supply sources. Some of the old wooden pipes remained in action through the 1970s.
"When city started, they had a reservoir off of Skalkaho Creek, and they would gravity-feed off of it," Hamilton Public Works director Keith Smith said. "We're not sure if (Marcus) Daly did it or the other town fathers, but he wanted it. At some point it was probably owned by city, then it was private, and now the city owns it again."
Hamilton bought the water system from Valley Water Co. around 1982 for about $1 million. Smith said the widening of Highway 93 through downtown precipitated the sale. The private company lacked the resources to expand the main lines, so the city had to arrange the financing.
"Now we've got a water facility master plan for 2009 that looks 20 years out to the future," Smith said. "We're in good shape for another 10 years, but if we see the growth like we saw in the '90s, we'll have to expand."
It’s a little eerie to sit here in the middle of the June Monsoon and remember what happened fifty years ago. The GF Tribune has been running some stories. They got the one about Father Stimatz stuck in a tree because he rushed out to save his cows. We never understood how it was that he had cows. It was Les Heuscher who also got stuck in a tree. He was working for Merle Magee at the time.
Merle had just finished a new house but it wasn’t destroyed. It was on the Depot Road where it went down into the Two Med coulee and the water came up gradually enough that it floated intact, wrenched loose from the foundation and plumbing, but everything undisturbed, even the cornflakes in the cupboard over the fridge. Right next to the house was a huge cottonwood, uprooted and lying on its side, but a robin’s nest had come with it on a branch, near enough to right-side-up that the babies were still in it and the parents were bringing food. The only thing was that the house was about ten feet off the ground, on top of big pile of brush.
Part of the story is that school had just dismissed for the summer and all the kids and old people had headed for the creek bottoms. A week earlier they could not have been there yet.
When I was working in Portland for the Site Development team of the Bureau of Buildings, I was somewhat obligated to be the flood plain lady who answered questions about the federal flood insurance maps. I tried never to give an opinion about whether anything was or was not in the flood plain, but I became very conscious of how emotional the issue was. In the first place, when there was no flood the flood plain was desirable land. People always want to build and live there -- probably since the original evolution of people at all. They didn’t want to have to have insurance. The maps were just guessing anyway. Much of the system developed in response to the settling of the Mississippi and other major long rivers back east. The concept of flood plains is just not there in most people’s minds today.
History of Swift Dam in the Curry lawsuit is online as an attached document that’s very enlightening about the original creation of the Dam. Major Steele had just been the Indian agent (he had two terms with a gap between) and his Blackfeet wife’s allotment was right there. They were ranching just above the location and then went to ranching just below, taking advantage of irrigation canals to raise alfalfa. It’s a slightly shady story which is why Pollock couldn’t say whether the dam is on the rez or not. The original handshake deal was made in a saloon in Robare, the town too wicked to exist, the remnants of which were completely obliterated in the flood.
The story of the Pondera Canal and Irrigation Company is a checkered one and very much entwined with the schemings of the Conrad Brothers, who came up to the area as teenaged boys, got their start with moving goods in wagons (probably including booze and who knows what else). They had been raiders with their father on the Confederate side in the Civil War. They founded Conrad town, whose water supply comes out of Lake Francis which is part of the same complex of channels and reservoirs as Swift. Read “Ghost Hunting in Montana” by Barnaby Conrad III, direct descendent not raised here. They went from freight to open range cattle ranching, then to the irrigation project which meant moving an entire Belgian village here, with the help of the Catholic church. Pollock is clearly a “hairy nose,” meaning mustached, meaning having a bit of metis blood which is common both at Heart Butte and up at St. Mary’s. Probably no Polish blood, but probably French.
Sherburne Dam also went out up in the St. Mary’s valley. I think it may have been a Glacier Park dam. I believe it also killed a man who was in his pickup on 89 going into St. Mary when the road washed out from under him. No park businesses on the east side could operate that summer. I don’t know about the west side.
The tourist parts of Browning business community were shut down for the summer. Even the mercantile parts were selling to locals but couldn’t restock. Things came in by helicopter. The most sharply felt shortages were pop and tobacco, even more than alcohol. No one did drugs then. People in general were still sort of post WWII, idealistic, country-style. Very few people were fat. Everyone wore jeans. No television. (You got it from Lethbridge if you had a set and a good antenna, and you sort of had to pretend there was a picture.) KSEN ran all day everywhere, even if there were no emergency. Country music.
Jerry Black and crew at KSEN were heroic. I remember Jerry, who was being handed things to read on the air and who was increasingly worn out, saying “there is much dee briss . . . what the heck is dee briss?” Then he realized the word was debris. Bill Grissom was absolutely heroic, running bull dozers and so on. None of that has been told. Much fell on Bill Riddle.
Bob and I went to Minneapolis to learn how to patine bronzes. Bob’s career had three legs: taxidermy, the Museum of Montana Wildlife, and sculpture. We were just beginning to learn how to cast bronzes. After an entire summer’s museum income was lost, and no taxidermy was coming in, Bob turned to the bronzes much more intensely. Even so, he had to borrow from his mother.
People had come to Browning right after WWII to start small businesses: cafés, motels, service stations. Those were hit hard by the flood and probably triggered some of the white exodus in the following years. The railroad and highway 2 through Marias Pass were not restored to use for many many months. Emergency preparedness, which was pre-missile siloes and mostly concerned about A-bombs, was totally inadequate. Replacement “Bailey bridges” that had been kept in halves on opposite sides of rivers turned out not to join properly in the middle. Mostly people were on their own and just improvised.
The Holy Family Mission buildings were seriously damaged and could not be rebuilt, though they were big stone buildings. The Museum of Plains Indian lost part of its foundation and many artifacts were destroyed because they were stored in the basement. This was mostly denied. Part of the problem of getting the tribe to take it is the need for repairs that have never been addressed.
Browning town is built on a flood plain that is nearly a marsh. Willow Creek is in a culvert now and so are many small rivulets that run just under the surface, preventing basements. The Methodist land is largely gravel and the folks on the other side of the highway have capitalized on that, but the church is reluctant to dig. The good side of this wide shallow flood plain is that a wall of water never builds up. But the bad side is that the water for wells is shallow, low-flow and low-quality. Not good enough to use for dialysis.
Interdiction of all access to the outside world. Helicopters and horseback were the main means of transportation. That was before ATV’s. All surrounding bridges went out and the main governmental people were dealing with other places off-rez. At least one bridge had an intact but displaced deck, so the local ranchers just used big equipment to pull it back into place. Once the water went down, it became possible to ford some rivers.
Heart Butte, only a small cluster then, was destroyed. The people moved into Browning. Then when the rez road system along each creek and the cut-across through the depot were paved, it was possible to live in Heart Butte and work in Browning or even Cut Bank or Valier. Housing projects were built in Heart Butte, but then -- just like the high-rise projects in the cities -- people realized that it concentrated kids and vulnerable people in one place where bullies could form gangs. Now new housing is often placed along the creeks -- so if you drive 89 at night, you see the strings of lights from people living on allotments.
Today is NOT like the life that Pollock describes as his childhood. The school buses are dependable -- it used to be that Heart Butte kids lost half their school days. Those who can afford them carry cell phones (if they can afford them) or could even carry sat phones if cell phones had no service. In the flood year there were no satellites to provide access for television and computers. Homes and families are far more tumultuous now, more mixed and uncertain with single moms. Drugs abound and sexual abuse is out of control in places that are remote.
Burial practises: The primordial culture of the Plains Indians is Asian. They were much more inclined to cremate or to dispose of bodies in high places where ultra-violet light would sterilize them. Beyond that, much of this prairie is glacial till, which means almost solid stones, impossible to manage without metal shovels and spud bars. In early days there were fewer people and they had very little that wasn’t biodegradable. After white contact came smallpox, an overwhelming number of bodies and no resources for dealing with them. Bob could remember people left on ridgetops, not that far away from town, and their belongings left there with them, once a big chair assembled of polished bison horns and red plush. Gradually the objects would mysteriously disappear.
When I first got there in 1961, I walked for miles and one of my fav paths was towards the mountains from the hospital along that ridge. In several places I would come to splintered old coffins and close examination of the ground would reveal beads in specks of color, but there were no bodies. In “Bronze Inside and Out” I told about the burial house at Starr School and the sun altar that is probably still there, higher up. Once we knew about the burial house, it was dismantled and the bodies buried. None had heads. One was a mother with a baby. Bob had been there as a boy on horseback. It was on the Earrings allotment and the man had fired warning shots at him before he reached the house. They were originally meant to hide the bodies in a compromise that avoided burial but more or less sequestered bodies that might well be contagious.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
This has been an easy open winter — so far — which is what was predicted. But we watch the mountains nervously to see how white with snow they are. And we squint at the news when they show us that the glaciers are disappearing. We already knew that Glacier National Park was not named for its many glaciers, but for the great scoop of geology that was formed by glaciers. Repeated glaciers, putting down layers carried from wherever they started, inconsiderately putting the rocky sources on top of the fertile soils.
Valier sits alongside -- and because of -- what’s now named “The Pondera Canal Company” which was founded when Swift Dam was built on reservation land owned by Major Steele and his Blackfeet wife, and partly funded with federal money but never legitimated legally. In 1964 the dam collapsed and killed over thirty people. I was here then. Sid Gustafson was a kid or maybe not born yet, but this event was so local and deep that it takes someone from here to get it right and he’s from here.
Out in April, pre-order now.
Now owned by the Pondera Canal Company, and Cargill, a worldwide grain business, this irrigation system supports Valier and other villages at the center of a wheel of ranches, strip-farms using high levels of oil-derived chemicals, a huge monoculture. The federal government is demanding the realignment of water allocation first defined mostly by habit. Since the Blackfeet are at the headwaters, they have the first legal claim, which they have not used over the years. Many plans have been laid and even some canals dug, but everything always dwindles off to nothing on that side of Birch Creek, which is the southern boundary. On the south side, off the rez, ranchers press hard to get as much water as they can. Water is profit. If the federal government forces reallocation, some ranches will fail.
We all look to the mountains. That’s where the water begins. This east slope country is in the center of two great atmospheric forces, sky forces. One is the wind that comes from the West, laden with ocean water. It must pass over several mountain ranges, the last and most serious being the Rockies. Water is heavy. The air drops it as rain or snow, until it is light enough to pass. That's where trees grow tall.
We look up at the mountains and see a storm shelf — in winter a snow shelf — of clouds forming a kind of higher, rounder range behind the Rockies. If there are clouds on the east side, they are pushed back in a great curve of blue called the Chinook Arch. It means that there is wind up high, pushed by the jet stream from the West, and things will warm up fast. Go to bed with feet of snow under the window, wake up with water traveling fast over bare ground. And the Rockies turn dark blue. The snow pack sinks. The water master at the Canal Company rethinks how much water he should impound behind Swift Dam or in Lake Francis, a secondary impoundment.
On a little stream that runs through Heart Butte, the beavers in their round house rouse and consider that there is more water running. They rush to raid the willow brush so as to poke more sticks into their dam. Not all of them manage to evade the traps set by the local Blackfeet in hopes of making a little money for Easter bonnets for their daughters. Beavers are too busy to worry about it — they’re not thinkers. They DO and what they do is impound water.
The trouble with global warming is that it throws off timing that has been calibrated by millennia of weeding out whatever doesn’t work. That goes for water, vegetation, crops, and snowpack. If the weather is already warm or too warm too early, the snow pack can’t melt slowly over the summer, keeping the trout as chilly as they like to be. The water is gone by late summer when the cottonwoods need to suck ground water.
The second wind stream comes down from the Arctic. It’s not so violent as the 100 mph Chinooks and it is not katabatic because it is not decompressing when descending a mountain -- that's what creates the famous hot katabatic winds. There are only single volcanic buttes to the north. So the air comes cold and hard, more of a bulge than a wind, an erratic pattern in arctic air pressure, possibly caused by melting polar cap. If cold air meets wet west coast air, which it often does over this place, we get snow. If the arctic air is not so cold, we get rain.
Rain washes away snowpack. Nothing stores the water then — except beavers. A zillion busy beavers equals one big heavy snow year. Recently it has been discovered that when smallpox killed so many indigenous people, the North American weather was changed. The people had set fires, cut wood, even planted crops. Without them, the vegetation started storing carbon. The same thing happened in Europe when the Black Plague wiped out the majority of the people. On the other hand, one vigorous volcano spewing filtering dust and rising to float in the atmosphere was able to make the weather so cold that no crops grew that year and people starved. It’s not radioactivity that makes the atomic bomb so dangerous, nor even the ghastly immediate effects of the explosion — it’s the ability to throw so much dust into the air.
Kids are like beavers — they are always busy. If a beaver doesn’t gnaw all the time, its teeth will grow and grow until the beaver can’t eat. They need to gnaw. The same with kids. They need to think all the time and ideas are their willow banks, the raw material for the impoundment of knowledge.
This message from Tony Hartshorn arrived via email: “I’m a soils scientist interesting in applying for federal funding to co-develop (with folks at the Blackfeet Community College) educational materials that might reignite interest in Blackfeet soils, patterned at some level along the lines of Les Carpenter's "Natural history of the Blackfeet Reservation" or the NASA astronomy tutorial "Blackfeet Skies" that Leo Bird helped with. I've tracked down this 1969 soils map, discovered that some libraries will not share maps of the reservation (or apparently share scans of those maps), and most recently learned that CH2M Hill ran backhoes all over the reservation about 10 years ago to measure soil water-holding capacity (though those results are somehow not public). This effort loosely aligns with ongoing ideas to lead a "Drought planning workshop" in Browning close to the end of March; that effort is mostly being led by Lea Whitford. I am eager to figure out a way to harness soil stories for greater student engagement.”
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Tony said there were 150 attendees at the meeting !! He’s on the faculty at Montana State University in Bozeman if you want to find him.