New pumps ordered for Valley Falls lagoon system built in 1950’s
Story and photo by Clarke Davis
It was late in 1957 when Valley Falls completed construction on a new lagoon sewer system featuring four nine-acre ponds.
The lagoon system was part of an open house tour that included a new water plant that had come on line earlier in the summer and had put an end to years of water shortages by cleaning river water.
In the more than 50 years since, both systems have required some repairs, remodeling, and, in some cases, computerization.
Utilities Superintendent Daryl Courter is now in the process of having three new submersible pumps installed at the lagoons at a cost close to $40,000.
The pumps sit at the bottom of a 21-foot deep well and they are not supposed to get wet or be submerged in water, but Courter knows the history of the place and over the years previous electric motors have been ruined because the well filled with water.
The system is currently operating on just two motors with one out of commission the past six months. The new 5-horsepower motors will replace the old 10-horsepower motors and operate more efficiently, Courter said.The motors are synced so that when the load becomes too great for one, the others alternately kick in.
A pump house that contains the motors is located next to the lagoons. Courter follows a well-worn path to the area south of town. It pretty much runs itself, but Courter keeps a close eye on it.
When he unlocks the door, his first duty is to turn on a fan that clears the air in case fumes have settled in the well. He tells this reporter that we can climb down the ladder to the floor 21 feet below, but he will have to call for backup first.
“No one goes down the well without someone being present up here,” Courter said. “It’s just a precaution.”
The well is concrete lined and has a sump pump on the floor to rid it of any seepage from rainwater. Stains close to the top of the walls indicate how full of water it has been in the past. The last time was in 1993, the flood year when great damage was done to the lagoons.
Courter said the system turned into one big lake in 1993 and damaged the dikes between the separate lagoons. Extensive work followed in 1994 and ’95 to rebuild the dikes and put in some riprap.
The pumps move the raw sewage to a splitter box from which it can be diverted to either lagoon, usually the first cell on the south end. From here it gravity flows from one cell to the next until it reaches the north cell and here it is discharged to the river.
Discharge takes place from Nov. 1 to March 31. Once the sewage enters the ponds, sunlight, air, and water set up the chemical reaction that purifies it sufficiently in time to be released.
Courter said the discharged water is tested and approved by state and federal authorities and meets the standards whereby it is not a threat to acquatic life. The city does not discharge during the summer months when people populate Perry Lake.
The water plant produced 125,000 gallons of water a day during the winter and 200,000 gallons during the summer. Most of that will arrive at the lagoons by a gravity feed system. There is only one lift station located on the west edge of the football field.
This amount of water plus an annual rainfall that averages three feet of water a year requires months of discharge.
Courter has a long history with the system that goes back before he worked for the city. A 1980 graduate of Valley Falls High School, he worked from 1974 until 1982 for the late Mike Elliot, who owned Mike’s Plumbing.
“He was a good guy and taught me a lot,” Courter said, but one of his lessons came while working at the pump house during those years.
He pointed to an electrical connection outside the pump house and said he was working on that same line. Everyone had assured him the electricity had been cut and that is the last thing he remembered until he woke up.
The line was still hot and the shock sent him flying and destroyed the screw driver in his hand. Needless to say, he’s pretty safety conscience these days.
Courter went to work for the city in 1983 or ’84 and got his schooling in water and sewer plant operations in 1995. He became the utilities superintendent upon the retirement of Paul Burns in 2003.
The lagoon system was built for about $81,000 plus engineering costs and $10,000 for the land purchased from the Joe Piazzek Estate. One business, the Sunflower Creamery Cooperative, shared in some of the cost and there may have been others. The late H.D. Wyatt was mayor at the time.
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