Pumping in a Winter Waterland: Water Management Below Freezing
December 8, 2022
In Canada, it is often said that there are only two seasons: winter and construction. However, the truth of the matter is that construction and heavy industry never stops, and that the infrastructure that supports our way of life requires constant maintenance. When it comes to things like mining operations, winter excavations, and water main breaks, the reality is that water is going to have to be pumped no matter what temperature it is outside.
When moving water at temperatures far below the freezing point, there are a number of difficult challenges that must be overcome. Successful projects require not only a great deal of planning, but specialized equipment and skilled operators. Here’s how it’s done.
The most obvious issue with pumping water in sub-zero temperatures is that water freezes, which can cause blockages and equipment damage. In the case of pipes, they freeze from the outside in, which restricts water flow and eventually leads to blockages and damage. With pumps, pieces of ice can cause major damage to the moving parts, making it extremely important to maintain the flow of water and prevent ice from building up.
Generally, there are two kinds of problems one can face when attempting to pump water in sub-zero temperatures. The first issue is that water, if left standing in pipes for even short periods of time, will begin to freeze. This is avoided by maintaining consistent water flows to prevent ice buildup and by using glycol heaters and insulating covers for the pipes to keep them warm. When pumping in winter conditions, all lines must be checked on a regular basis to ensure no leaks or damages.
The second problem with pumping extremely cold water is that specialized pumping equipment is necessary to handle both the extreme temperatures as well as the water flows. Canada Pump & Power’s line of Mighty Pumps systems house the combustion engines with the pumps to reuse engine heat, as well as priming systems with no moving parts – without these things, the pump would be at the mercy of the elements and subject to failure.
Although water would always be flowing and moving in an ideal project scenario, it is often the case that the flow of water is intermittent. This means that there will be periods of time where water is standing in both the pipes and pumps, making specialized equipment and heating infrastructure absolutely necessary in these cases. With this part of the project, our engineers use environmental conditions, the material properties of the pipes, and other variables to calculate the heat loss during pumping and what measures are necessary.
Even with specialized pumping and heating equipment, winter pumping projects require an extraordinary amount of planning and care in order to execute successfully. Canada Pump & Power begins all our projects with a detailed analysis of the project requirements, associated environmental challenges such as topography, and the expected conditions at each of the work sites. Following this, we draft an extensive work execution plan and safety plan to ensure the project will be completed safely and successfully.
Experts in Water Infrastructure
Canada Pump & Power has been pumping water in winters for many years. Over that time, we have accumulated a great deal of expertise in a variety of challenging scenarios, including at Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake facility, the diversion of St. Mary’s River in the wintertime, and many mining sites that require year-round water removal.
We are passionate about water, and have helped clients in petroleum, mining, military, and many branches of government develop sustainable and environmentally-respectful approaches to year-round water management. We specialize in diving, pumping, barging, dredging, and design/build solutions, and our Mighty Pumps systems are capable of handling water flows in sub-zero temperatures.