Aquaponics Disaster Preparedness

Boulder FloodTo say this past week has been a tough one for the communities where I live (Boulder, CO) and work (Longmont, CO) would be an extreme understatement.  Record rainfalls causing major floods have forced us all to focus strictly on life’s basics.  Is our home safe?  Is the drinking water safe? Are our friends and family safe and accounted for? Do we have power?  Can we run water into the sewage system? Is there a passable route to drive to work, and then get back home again?

Fortunately we’ve come through the disaster with relatively little damage.  We had some water in the basement, but because of two long nights spent running a shop-vac which we pumped out with a submersible pump, we kept the damage to just the carpets.  And since we had moved The Aquaponic Source out of our home six weeks earlier, the basement was almost totally empty.  Carpeting is the only thing that needs to be replaced.  We definitely count ourselves among the lucky ones.

All of this caused me to do a bit of thinking about aquaponics disaster preparedness – in other words, how do I keep my aquaponics system safe in times like these?  Here is what I’ve concluded.

  1. Aquaponics Disaster PreparednessBackup Aeration – I can’t emphasize enough that you risk the death of your fish and the failure of your aquaponics system by not having some form of automatic backup aeration on your fish tank.  This doesn’t just apply to disasters – last year a car ran into a power line near us that took out power to our neighborhood for about twelve hours.  Natural disasters, however, tend to go hand-in-hand with power outages.  On the afternoon of September 12th, which was the first true day of the crisis here, we lost power in Longmont for a couple of hours.  Only Matt and I were in the office, and we quickly realized that we had just brought about a hundred fish over from Boulder, but had never set up an AquaBackup system for them. Fortunately we had a prototype handy (we were out of the “official” versions that we sell) and our fish survived the weekend because of it.
  2. Cover your system – This rain event was incredibly rare for arid Colorado.  Prior to this past week, the record rainfall for a single storm was 7.4” set in 1969.  This storm, so far, has dumped nearly 17” of water.  Again, timing is everything and thank goodness we had moved the outdoor fish to Longmont days prior!  That aquaponics system would have been thrown completely out of whack had it still been active because of the extreme dilution of the nutrients, not to mention that the super high water levels would have endangered the fish.  If you live in an area where massive rainfalls like this are not so rare, like Florida or Hawaii, you should consider either having a permanent protective covering over your system, or a plan for quickly rigging one up if the need arises.
  3. Water source – The other critical resource in jeopardy during a disaster is your water supply.  While we are currently safe, surrounding mountain communities are being told to boil their water before drinking it.  Now imagine you are in one of those towns and you had the foresight to plan for both of the issues above…but the water in your aquaponics system is running low.  If you as standard practice, off-gas your system water using a reserve tank you will probably be just fine, since you will already have water set aside. But if you fill your tanks using municipal water straight out of the tap, perhaps with a chlorine filter, you could be in trouble.  My advice, if you have the space, is to add a tank or two to your system for off-gassing chlorine.  Then top up the water in your aquaponics system from this tank rather than straight from the tap. You will find that this system has the added winter benefit of giving the water a chance to warm up a bit from the extreme cold water that comes straight from the tap.

As I look outside onto our wet deck in these early morning hours, I’m feeling a bit sad about the lack of predictability we must sometimes face in our lives.  Unfortunately it seems that the best we can do when it comes to Mother Nature’s capriciousness is to just try to be prepared.

2014-05-05T09:02:50-06:00

8 Comments

  1. Jon Paul September 19, 2013 at 4:26 am

    My Brother Lives in longmont and his home was almost flooded. I was thinking of you in Bolder and was worried that you might have had major problems. My brothers power was cut for over a day or something like that. I’m afraid of the day when i loose power. Currently i need to run more than a air pump. I need to run a swamp cooler and pumps that total about 8 amps. Im thinking that my best option will be to get a computer UPS Battery Backup and replace the stock batteries with 3 large deep cell batteries. I’m hoping to have a system that can make it a minimum of 5 hours. I have access to a portable generator but would have to be there to start it up. 3 weeks ago the power failed for 1 hour when i was at work and the greenhouse almost overheated. The cheapest generator with auto start up and transfer switch i could find was $1800. I think i could set up a battery backup for around $1000 that would meet my needs. I’m stuck on which UPS to buy. The UPS would need a proper charging circuit to make the Deep cell batteries last. I have heard of people getting 30 years out of well cared for deep cell batteries. The Batteries would be the most expensive part.

  2. Celia September 20, 2013 at 5:26 am

    I was thinking about Disaster Preparedness as well. Is there a way to filter the Aquaponics water so that it is safe for human consumption in a drastic situation?

  3. Tim September 20, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Celia,
    You would have to be concerned about the nitrate levels in aquaponic water. Whilst great for plant growth, they are not so great for humans when consumed in water.
    http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/programs/extension/publicat/wqwm/ag473_4.html

    However, if you have a couple of off-gassing tanks like Sylvia suggested these would serve the purpose of emergency drinking water. Another cool thing you could do for disaster water storage is line the north facing wall of your greenhouse with water barrels. These will serve the daily function of acting as heat sinks for the greenhouse (helping to keep it warm every night) and as an emergency water source for your family in a disaster.

  4. Bruce Miller September 22, 2013 at 5:16 am

    Jon Paul… if I may give you some feedback… You don’t need to spend $1,000 on a battery backup system, unless you want a professional system like used in solar home applications. (I have a solar system) Otherwise, here is what I recommend. I have an APC “350” UPS here. ($35.00 at Walmart) It says it will handle 200 watts/2.8 amps, or 300 watts/4.2 amps. Not sure why it gives 2 different sets of numbers, but it won’t handle 8 amps. However, larger ones are available that will. When you find one, you will need to remove the onboard battery, and using spade connectors, attach a longer length of wires (one black, one red, 12 gauge automotive type from any auto parts house) and attach to your deep cycle battery. NOTE: the ups will keep the battery charged, if already full. It will NOT charge the battery once it has been used. So, you need a 12 volt battery charger. After a power outage when the battery is used, DISCONNECT it from the ups and connect it to the big charger at a rate of 10 – 20% of rated amp hour rating. (If it is a trolling motor type battery, it will be about 100 amp hours. The charge rate will be 10 to 20 amps – if your charger has a variable setting on it. Some chargers have a switch that allow you to charge at a selectable rate – 2 amps, 10 amps, etc.) Once the “charge complete” light comes on, you can disconnect from the big charger and reconnect to the UPS. A spare battery would be a handy thing to have for this.

    Now, if your load is 8 amps, and you want to run 5 hours, 8×5=40 amps, which is perfect for a 100 amp hr battery. (You always try not to discharge more than 50%) You may get 5 to 8 years out of it, depending on how often it is cycled. May cost around $100 bucks. You may do better to get 2 6volt golf cart batteries and connect them in series for 12 volts (pos to neg). They are around 220 amp hrs and cost around $69 each at Sams Club. May get 8 to 15 years out of them… and they are TRUE deep-cycle batteries, unlike the marine batteries. The ones that last 20 to 30 years are much more expensive, and I can tell you that the golf cart type battery is wonderful and will give you many years of dependable service, at an excellent price. It would be my first choice, and I speak from experience. They would run your system for 12 to 14 hrs if needed. Just remember the trickle charger in the ups should maintain them, but WILL NOT charge them.

    So approx. cost would be: 150 for batteries, 100 for decent charger, maybe 100 for UPS. $350 total, plus wire and other misc. Make sure the connecting wire between the batteries is large enough, and I would put a fuse or circuit breaker in line AT THE BATTERIES. Someone should be able to advise you, or I’ll be glad to give you more details. If I sound distracted, it’s because I’m trying to watch football while doing this. Good luck. Hope I was of some help.

  5. Bruce Miller September 22, 2013 at 5:25 am

    Buy a “Berkey” water filter. Google it. You can pour lake water into it and it comes out clean. About $200 bucks as I recall, but will last you 20 years with no filters to replace. Money well spent!

  6. Bruce Miller September 22, 2013 at 5:29 am

    I don’t know about nitrate filtration, but you could run some water through the Berkey and use your nitrate test kit. Should be interesting. However, Tim and Sylvia have a great idea about having extra water stored.

  7. Sylvia September 22, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    ….or you can just get our BatteryOn product – http://www.theaquaponicstore.com/AquaBackup-s/333.htm. We’ve already done all the work for you. 😉

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