MWI Pump Rental tackles dewatering for BIG California levee break job

The Record
By Reed Fujii (Staff Writer)
Published Tuesday, July 13 2004

After the June 3 levee break that inundated a 12,000-acre island in the San Joaquin Delta, a call went out to Florida for specialized high-volume pumps to help recover the valuable farmland.

All 10 of the imported pumps are now in operation, state officials said this week, drawing roughly 350,000 gallons a day from Upper and Lower Jones tracts once flooded to a depth as much as 20 feet. Since pumping began July 12, the water level has dropped by about 18 inches. The work is ahead of schedule, which calls for the water level to be drawn down 3 feet by mid-August and to be completed by mid-October, said Don Strickland, spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources.

The diesel-powered pumps are four 42-inch pumps on Upper Jones Tract and four 42-inch and two 30-inch pumps on Lower Jones-could move as much as 500,000 gallons per day, running around the clock. The more leisurely pace eases stress on the equipment and increases fuel efficiency, the DWR noted.

“One thing that’s interesting about this job is that we’re moving such a great volume of water with only 80 gallons per hour of diesel fuel,” said Matthew Milinski, sales engineer of Moving Water Industries Corp., a pump manufacturing and equipment rental company in Deerfield Beach, Fla. MWI got the nod because its equipment and rental service best fit the demands of draining the Delta island, said Fred Paulsen, district engineer for Ford Construction Co. Inc., the Lodi firm that won the $3.9 million state contract to pump out the water. “These are very specialized,” Paulsen said Tuesday of MWI’s pumps, which efficiently move huge volumes of water with relatively low head or pressure. “I don’t know that this type of pump has been seen on the West Coast very much,” he said by telephone from his Lodi office.

Milinski said his rental equipment is most commonly used on construction jobs in Florida, where the high water table means nearly every sort of excavation requires water removal services. But it often is pressed into emergency service all over the country. “I don’t think anyone else could do the job,” he said Tuesday from Florida. “We have the largest fleet of high-volume pumps available for rent in the world.” And while flood-recovery work constitutes only a fraction of MWI’s rental business, the company was forged out of such a disaster.

It traces its roots to an iron- and steel-equipment manufacturing business started in Deerfield Beach in 1926. But after a disastrous hurricane struck the Lake Okeechobee area in 1928, claiming more than 2,500 lives by some estimates, the U.S. government built a series of massive flood-control projects and MWI provided thousands of pumps for the effort. The primary challenge in the Jones Tract job is the short time frame allowed to dry out the island, Milinski said.

Recovery workers created a 500,000-gallon-per-day pumping station in a matter of weeks. To build a permanent pump station of the same capacity, especially if the pumps were manufactured to order, might take a year, he said. “We just worked three weeks straight to get this thing rolling,” Milinski said. That’s no days off and racking up the overtime but not unusual when responding to an emergency, he said. “The recovery work has gone very smoothly so far,” Strickland said. “Keep your fingers crossed. We haven’t had anything that would slow the work down. You like to have a run like that, and you’d like to keep that going,” he said.