Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Lightning hits Tower water plant

Ely man dies while clearing trees from storm

Jodi Summit
Posted 9/18/19

BREITUNG TWP- A lightning strike, Tuesday, caused serious damage to the computerized systems at the Tower-Breitung water filtration plant, located on Junction Road in Soudan. The treatment plant …

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Lightning hits Tower water plant

Ely man dies while clearing trees from storm

Posted

BREITUNG TWP- A lightning strike, Tuesday, caused serious damage to the computerized systems at the Tower-Breitung water filtration plant, located on Junction Road in Soudan. The treatment plant itself was not damaged, but the plant’s automatic controls were destroyed, which will require the plant to be operated manually until a new electronics system can be installed.
The filtration plant removes iron and manganese from the municipal water supply.
Water Plant Supervisor Matt Tuchel said he was out monitoring one of the lift stations that was running at near capacity due to the heavy rain when he got a call, at 4:14 p.m., that the plant had been hit.
“It burnt out everything,” he said. “We have to change out all the panels.”
Tuchel immediately contacted the supplier but found out that no replacement parts are available for the panel system, because of its age. He estimated the new panels will cost as much as $50,000. The plant had a similar issue about 12 years ago, he said, and the panel replacement cost was covered by insurance.
In addition, the water plant’s computer was also damaged, and will need to be replaced.
Tuchel said wastewater department staff were at work early Wednesday morning, and were able to run the plant manually, which means water customers will see no difference in their water quality as they wait for repair of the plant.
“I’ve been making water since 7 a.m.,” he saidon Wednesday. “We are able to run the plant as usual.”
Running the plant manually takes about six hours, he said, and will require either Tuchel or assistant Tom Poderzay to be at the plant while the water tower is being refilled with the filtered water. But overall, he said, it isn’t that hard a job. The one major issue is that without the electronic controls, the only way to know when the water tower is full is to wait for it to overflow and then shut off the water supply, he said. They also would not beable to detect a leak in the system until the water tower is empty, according to Tuchel.
Tuchel has already contacted three vendors for quotes on new panels. The Tower-Breitung Wastewater Board was set to meet on Sept. 18 for their regularly scheduled meeting and will be able to address the issues.
Tuchel was not certain if this damage will delay the pilot plant testing scheduled for later this month. The on-site testing will be used to design the new secondary water treatment plant that is needed because surface water is entering into the public water supply, which requires additional treatment protocols.

Unusual weather

The damage to the water plant came during a severe thunderstorm that brought intense lightning, heavy rains and high winds to the area and also led to the death of an Ely man who was trying to remove a tree brought down on the roof of an Eagles Nest residence during the storm. (See sidebar on that incident.)
Rainfall totals ranged from 1-2 inches across much of the region on Tuesday, although rainfall was more limited in the Cook and Orr area, where rainfall totaled half an inch or less. The downpours in the Tower-Soudan and Ely areas were heavy and prompted some street flooding in parts of Ely, while winds accompanying the storm brought down scattered trees and large branches across the area. Hwy. 169 near Wolf Lake was blocked for a time in the immediate aftermath of the storm as a result of a tree that fell across the highway.
The storms came in advance of a low-pressure system that brought extraordinarily warm and humid air back into the North Country after weeks of cool temperatures. The steamy air set records for warm overnight lows, according to State Climatologist Pete Boulay. International Falls, which has the longest weather records north of Duluth, set a record warm overnight low on Tuesday, with a low of 65 degrees, beating the previous record of 62 which dates to 1925.
It appeared the border city was set to top that mark on Wednesday, after an overnight low of 68. Assuming the temperature did not drop below 68 by midnight on Wednesday (after the Timberjay’s press time), it would set a new daily record as well as a new mark for the warmest overnight low so late into the fall season, according to Boulay. He added that most other low temperatures posted in the region were also almost certainly in warm record territory.
It created an odd circumstance in the area as fall colors are nearing their peak and leaves are beginning to fall. “It doesn’t feel right when the leaves are falling and it’s this warm,” said Steve Gohde, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Duluth.
After a brief respite from the storminess, warm and unsettled weather is expected to return Friday through the weekend. Forecaster Dan Miller said some parts of the region could see another round or two of heavy rain, with some areas potentially picking up several more inches of rain.


Tower, water plant

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