OMAHA — As Midwest farmers and ranchers continue to recover equipment damaged in 2019 flooding the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health safety team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center reminds them to consider personal safety at each step of the restoration process.
According to a UNMC press release, exposing farm equipment to any kind of water can result in serious problems that can turn a normally safe piece of equipment into a safety hazard.
Submerging electric and internal combustion engines or electric appliances in floodwater adds to the potential for damage and complicates cleanup. Look for a dirty water line on the equipment to get an idea of how high the floodwater rose.
“If you have an internal combustion engine under water, get it out of the water and dried out as quickly as possible because the integral parts of the engine will quickly corrode,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator Steve Melvin, an expert in irrigated cropping systems. “Drain oil out of the crank case and fuel out of the fuel system. Replace all the filters.”
Injectors or spark plugs must be removed to ensure there is no water in the cylinders.
Make sure electric motors are completely dried out and free from any dirt, sand or other flood debris, and grease motor bearings by removing the relief plug and adding grease until the old grease is expelled.
Whether an engine is internal combustion or electric, all parts must be thoroughly dried before attempting to start it.
Any water remaining in the cylinders could cause the engine to lock up if not drained. Any dampness in an electric motor may result in damaging electrical shorts and potentially hazardous electrical shocks.
Once a motor has been taken apart, it can be placed in a warm — not too hot — oven to speed drying. Ideally, an electrical or internal combustion professional can inspect the motor before reassembly to ensure it is safe to operate.
Floodwater contains a wide range of particles, such as sand, silt and contaminants that include an abundance of fuel, pesticides and other chemicals, so carefully inspect engine parts for traces of contamination. Always wear gloves to protect yourself when handling contaminated parts.
Ensure that those working around you are aware of possible contamination and always keep children away from flood-contaminated equipment.
“You could use compressed air or something similar to help clean the engine,” said University of Nebraska Extension Educator Troy Ingram. “If it’s an electric motor, the water may affect bearings, windings and rotor. It’s best to take electric pump units to an electrical shop to have them evaluated, since you rely on them all summer to keep water on crops.”
There’s good reason to believe most internal combustion engines and electric motors can be restored after being submerged in floodwater. However, some can have damage that requires complete rebuilds.
Center pivot issues
“If a center pivot is submerged in water, you’ll want to inspect every electrical component to make sure floating debris didn’t crash against it and damage wiring or tear things loose,” Ingram said.
Center pivot components that should be checked include the wheel and center drive gearboxes, center drive motors on electric drive pivots, tower boxes if the water reached them, and the pivot panel.
Hydraulic-drive pivots still need to have wheel gearboxes checked, but the hydraulic system should be OK as long as the pump and/or oil reservoir were not submerged.
“With gearboxes, drain any water that’s present,” Melvin said. “If the oil appears contaminated, drain it and refill with new oil. The center drive motors should be inspected to make sure they are dry and free of debris. That may require removing the stator housing from the motors.”
If water reached the pivot panel and/or the tower boxes, it’s recommended to have a service technician or electrician inspect them.
“Be sure they are completely dried out before servicing them,” Melvin said. “Both basic and computer panels may operate after drying out and cleaning, but sometimes they need to be repaired or replaced.
“It’s also a good idea to contact your local well or pivot company service technicians and involve them in the system inspection. If something was missed, additional damage could occur by operating the system.”
To help protect irrigation equipment from floodwater, consider moving it to a side hill or at least as far away as possible from creeks, rivers and known floodplains.
“If it’s set on a side hill, the center pivot may be more susceptible to wind damage,” Melvin cautioned. “But that would help keep it out of floodwater.”
Farmers who pump irrigation water out of a creek or river typically move irrigation equipment away from the water source when it’s not being used. “In those situations, the farmer is likely to be accustomed to watching for signs of a pending flood,” Melvin said.
“Any type of equipment you can protect from potential floodwater will help avoid a nighttime trip to move it or (having to) deal with costly repair or replacements caused by floodwater,” he added.
Also check wells
Once a center pivot’s power unit has been checked for damage, the well should be inspected.
Wells with an open discharge pipe that isn’t plugged or connected to a gravity irrigation system are of more concern. Wells with proper back-flow valves should be less susceptible to contamination and collection of debris.
“Make sure the well pump turns freely before operating it or you could incur damage to the impellers,” Melvin said. “Once the power unit is operable, it’s probably helpful to pump any contaminants out of the well or shock chlorinate it to kill any bacteria that might be present.”
Well gearheads usually are sealed, but it’s advisable to drain the oil, flush if possible, and refill it with new oil.
Melvin said securing propane or diesel tanks or moving them to higher ground helps keep them from floating away and keeps everyone safer in the event of a flood.
Insurance policies often don’t provide coverage for flooding.
To thoroughly understand the details of equipment coverage, consult your insurance agent and request specific information about whether your policy includes coverage for flood-damaged equipment. It may be helpful to request a written statement of specific coverage details.
“Above all else, stay safe when you’re working in a flood-damaged area and when repairing damaged equipment,” Melvin said. “Make sure all power is shut off to these engines and center pivots. Double check to make sure that’s done.
“Don’t attempt to use a system that hasn’t been thoroughly restored and inspected.”