Splish Splash

First of all, thanks again to everyone who has asked about our well-being. We are fine, all things considered. It is undeniable that we are in a region officially declared to be a disaster/emergency/apocalypse/whatever, but our house is not in any of the most perilous locations, i.e. the locations that have been getting lots of attention in the media. In the past I would have said that we’re miles away from any sort of flooding danger, but now it would be silly to say that considering that there are roads closed less than a mile from us, and roads further from the canyon streams than here (most notably I-25) are also closed. It is accurate to say that we are not in imminent danger, though.

Anyway, I closed my last entry with the optimistic statement, “…so I’m not particularly worried.” Shortly after writing that we were settling down on the sofa, realizing that we probably weren’t going to get back to sleep right away, what with the excitement. It suddenly crossed my mind to check the unfinished half of the basement for water seepage. To my alarm, most of the floor had maybe a centimeter of water on it. So much for even thinking about going back to bed.

Most of what’s in that room is not directly on the floor. There are a bunch of storage shelves on casters, laundry machines, the water heater, the furnace, that sort of thing. Unfortunately there is (or was) a bunch of stuff in boxes in the storage space under the stairs, some of it of sentimental value at least. I think the first thing that came to mind was a box of antique books from my youth, including several volumes of Tom Swift. The next thing that came to mind was a pair of powered studio monitors. I hollered up the stairs at Tracie and tried to figure out what to do next.

The next four hours is now something of a blur, but the upshot is that we moved the stuff out of that room into the adjoining room (which is finished and dry) and put it on blankets on the floor. Tracie unboxed books and things while I hauled boxes out of the water and did triage. Happily, almost nothing was actually damaged. We had found the problem soon enough that the boxes of books had not soaked through significantly; only one or two books were harmed (and none of them were tales of Tom’s adventures). The studio monitors were also fine, thanks to Mackie’s excellent double-box packaging. Arguably the worst losses were the packaging and shipping boxes for my Moog Voyager; one end of those was quite soaked. (The Voyager was not in the box and hence is fine. I count the demise of its boxes as the worst loss because the Voyager itself is a collector’s item.)

The next problem was getting the water off the floor so that it could start to dry. Tracie had the excellent idea of using the Shop Vac, which happens to be a wet/dry model. I had to scurry through the rain to/from the garage for it, but it did a remarkably good job. In the end there was apparently only a few gallons of water on the floor. That doesn’t sound like much, but it was more than enough.

We had things–well, I won’t say “under control” since one can hardly claim to be in any sort of control during a natural disaster. We had things in some semblance of order, I guess, by a bit after 6:00AM. At that point we were too tired to do anything else, so we went back to bed. The phone woke us up at about 10:00AM when a friend of Tracie’s called to find out whether we were okay, after seeingcoverage of the flood on the news.

We spent much of that day (which was yesterday) shuffling stuff around, moving things out to the garage for storage, etc. Our dinner was interrupted at 6:00PM by a power outage. I ran around shutting down computers and UPSes and returned upstairs to find that Tracie had arranged a candlelight dinner. Happily the power came back on just over an hour later.

One key point which we somehow managed to overlook was to wonder how the water got into the basement in the first place. The answer (and the lack of oversight) became painfully obvious that evening when I found even more water on the floor than before. At least there was nothing vulnerable to water in there any longer.

The water appeared to be coming in through the sump. It’s always been something of a mystery: this house has a sump, but no pump in the sump. (A sump sans pump, one could say.) Anyone reading this is welcome to tell me that I was stupid for not rectifying this situation as soon as I discovered it, and you’d be right. In my defense, however, this is the first time that the lack of a pump has been an issue, and I’ve lived in this house for 16 years. Also, what’s going on now is far from usual: yesterday the press was calling it a 100-year flood, today they’re calling it a 500-year flood. By that math, the pump I’ll install shortly will never get used again, but so it goes.

It wasn’t clear how rapidly water was flowing out of the sump and onto the floor. I fired up the Shop Vac again and found that it wasn’t up to the current task. Its six-gallon tank filled within a minute or so; it took longer to empty it into the floor drain. (Funny thing about that floor drain: it doesn’t seem to drain the floor when it would be most convenient for it to do so. The water seemed content to flow away from it.) This meant that I wasn’t going to make any headway. I resorted to using the Shop Vac’s tube and floor attachment as a sort of squeegee to propel water towards the drain. Tracie watched from the doorway and said encouraging things about the apparent direction of the flow of the water, based upon her observation of bits of cat hair floating on its surface.

The incoming water slowed and I made some headway. Around that time I suddenly remembered that I had an aquarium pump somewhere in the garage–the variety of aquarium pump that pumps water, not the more common air-pumping variety.

[My typing was just interrupted by a reverse-911 call, during which a voice synthesizer informed us that the Lefthand Water District is advising its customers that the tap water should be considered unsafe unless boiled prior to drinking, using for cooking or washing, etc. Now I have to find out whether we’re such a customer, even though I’m pretty sure we’re not… Well, the link on their site to their service map is broken, but I know that I pay my water bills with the city of Boulder, and this site has a completely different billing system. No problem.]

I purchased that pump for a hydroponic-gardening system I constructed some years ago and knew that it could move quite a bit of water, so I rummaged around in the garage until I found it. I also grabbed a short length of garden hose from the sprinkler set-up, deciding that it was unlikely that I’d be inclined to water the lawn any time soon. I dropped the pump into the sump, pointed the hose at the floor drain, plugged it in, and crossed my fingers.

[Digression: yes, one should not make a regular practice of plugging in extension cords, vacuum cleaners, pumps, etc. while standing on a wet basement floor. As Chris is fond of saying, needs must. One can be slightly smarter about this activity by always using three-prong wiring and using only one hand to make the final connection to the wall socket. Doing this makes it less likely that you’ll defibrilate yourself and end up lying in an electrified puddle.]

The pump rose to the occasion in a most gratifying manner and started moving a lot of water out of the sump and into the drain. After a few minutes it was clear that it was at least keeping pace with the incoming flow. Some time after that it started winning: the water level in the sump had visibly dropped. I went about removing the remaining water with the now-useful-again Shop Vac.

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At some point during the evening, Tracie’s father volunteered to obtain a sump pump and ship it to us. (He’s had quite a bit of experience with such things. Not long ago, their town in Wyoming flooded and most of his neighbors discovered that they had the same sump-sans-pump arrangement that we have and ended up with several feet of water in their basements. His house has no basement, but its crawl space ended up awash and he had to install a sump and pump in situ.) We cheerfully accepted this offer since it was a forgone conclusion that no sump pumps were likely to be available around here (a conclusion that our neighbors later confirmed).

So, things were looking pretty good: we had a temporary pump and a proper pump on the way. There was one new problem, however. The aquarium pump needs to remain submerged while running, or its motor will overheat and the poor thing will self-immolate. We were now depending on this pump to keep the floor dry and the new pump wasn’t going to arrive until Saturday at the earliest. Hence the problem was, what would happen if the pump drained the sump after we went to bed? Well, the answer was that possibly it would expire in the line of duty, which would be no good at all.

I decided that what I had to do was to set an alarm to wake me (or rather us) up every two hours so that I could get up, go downstairs and check whether the sump still had enough water to keep the pump happily covered. It didn’t make for a particularly restful night. The cats seemed bemused by me wandering through the living room and back, in my bathrobe, every two hours. I managed to get back to sleep pretty rapidly each time (probably because I was dead tired by the end of the preceding day) but Tracie didn’t fair so well. She gave up and got up after my 5:00AM pump inspection. I lounged around until 7:00.

It paid off, though: the pump ran through the night and the incoming water slowed. In the morning I determined that I could turn it off altogether. However, now I had the opposite problem: I had to keep tabs on the incoming water so that I knew when it was necessary to turn the pump back on. I briefly considered various options such as rigging some sort of water-level alarm and/or using a spare computer to construct a sumpcam that made its image available on the LAN. I ended up opting for the simple expedient of setting a timer on my iPod to remind me to check the sump. (I used the quacking-duck sample for comic effect. Freddy the cat doesn’t like the quacking-duck sample; he scowls at me when it goes off.) That worked well enough, aside from the inconvenience of dropping whatever I was doing every 20 minutes to peer into the sump and turn on the pump when necessary. Fortunately the pump could drain the sump in a few minutes and I could go back to whatever it was that I’d been doing. I gradually increased the intervals since happily the rain abated today and the incoming water slowed to a trickle.

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Once again, though, the question of what to do tonight arose, particularly since it started clouding up again in the afternoon. I cobbled up a solution, but it’s now 10:00PM and it will take me some time to describe what I constructed. Also, it might tempt the Fates for me to triumphantly relate my cleverness before my work has actually been put to the test. Time for bed.

1 thought on “Splish Splash

  1. Quite an odyssey. Reminds me of the two different times we’ve had leaky waterheaters and the one time the pipes burst while we were out of the country. Yes, a wet/dry vac can be a godsend in these situations.

    Stay safe, and stay dry.

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