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New pumping scenarios associated with climate change: submersible pumps

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Maria Elena Rodríguez Hernández
Water Engineering Director, R&D - Engineering at Ingeteam.

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  • New pumping scenarios associated with climate change: submersible pumps

Climate change is disrupting weather patterns, leading to extreme weather events, unpredictable water availability, exacerbating water scarcity, contaminating water supplies and flooding areas that were never affected by these events in the past. Water in its various forms is always on the move, in a complex process known as the water cycle. Global warming is already having a measurable effect on this cycle, altering the amount, distribution, timing, and quality of available water. Water users – from communities, to industries, to ecosystems – are in turn affected: their activities and functions depend, either directly or indirectly, on water.

The rapid growth of cities, and consequently population requirements in terms of water supply, and at the same time, global warming ravages have changed any known water supply pumping scenario: different, reliable pumping solutions are definitively needed to answer the actual pumping challenges.

As we all know, a submersible pump is a type of centrifugal pump that can be fully submerged in water during operation. The fact of being submersible allows reducing the size of the pumping station and at the same time eliminates concerns about damage to the motors in the event of flooding.

Facing the worst drought on record in the Colorado River Basin, as lake levels continue to fall, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has built a low lake level pumping station to ensure access to its primary water supplies in Lake Mead. The use of submersible pumps in the new intake enhances the SNWA’s existing intake system, enabling continued access to its water resources in Lake Mead, even if lake levels drop too low. This is going to be a trend in our lives: due to the combination of drought and increased water demand, water reservoir levels are not going to reach their original capacity. The depletion of aquifers will make necessary to drill exiting wells down in order to reach deep-water reservoirs, making most traditional pump solutions non-viable; they are not suitable to reach these new depths.

A submersible pump allows reducing the size of the pumping station and eliminates concerns about damage to the motors during flooding

A growing number of communities are finding themselves underwater. Extreme weather, sea level rise, and other climate change impacts are increasingly to blame. Connecting climate change to floods can be a tricky endeavor. With regard to floods, what is clear is that, whether common in the area or not, flood events require reliable pumping solutions.

In 2018, the World Bank estimated that three regions (Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia) will generate 143 million more climate migrants by 2050. While it is difficult to estimate, approximately one-third of the people forced to move around the world do so due to “sudden onset” weather events — flooding, forest fires after droughts, and intensified storms. This fact, together with more common urban migration for economic reasons, have driven water system planners to new pumping challenges.

The rapid growth of cities has modified the actual relative location of many pumping plants: while being in the middle of nowhere in the past, with city growth and the new neighborhoods’ layout, they rest in the middle of many settled areas at present time. Many old pumping stations were projected in the past with pumps with surface motors. Having the motor in the surface, the noise from these pumps can disturb neighbors, disrupt their sleep and interfere with normal daily activities. If loud enough, it can also affect their health. Noise pollution needs to be controlled to make life comfortable. With this acoustic pollution issue, the replacement with submersibles could be the right response to eliminate the noise: The motor pumps are located underwater, out of earshot, making the submersible solution the best one in these scenarios.

In summary, submersible pumping solutions will help to face the problems that climate change, with its consequences, brings to our cities and communities: access to water resources, floods, seawater level rise and population movements.

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