Pisek, Czech Republic and Folsom Lake, California

   In Pisek, I would take walks around town. Each time was a joy, even if it was the same route as previous. I would go down to the river from our apartment on Velké Námēstí and turn along the  Otava river, just before the old bridge; the oldest stone bridge in Czech, and walk along the river on one side and the castle wall on the other side. At the end I would run into the electric generator building.

Písek was the first town in the Czech lands to have permanent electric street lighting. It was installed by the Czech electrotechnician, František Křižík, on 23 June, 1887, who lit several arc lamps in the town centre. A year later, the street lighting was extended and the provisional traction engine drive was replaced with a power plant (the first in the Czech lands) built by the citizens in an old watermill on the Otava River. Dynamos for power production were first driven by a waterwheel, which was replaced with two Francis turbines in 1901. These turbines were reconstructed in 1994, old technical equipment was brought back into operation, and the power plant now generates electricity again. In 1997, a small museum dedicated to street lighting in Písek was opened here, documenting the history of power generation in Písek and showing old power generation equipment in operation. (Official portal of the town of Pisek)

    František Křižík was a contemporary of Thomas Edison and competed with him as to who would first invent the light bulb. November 1879, Edison officially patented his light bulb. 

     The opening on the left is a little tunnel which gets you to the other side of the mill. As you come out on the other side you can hear the humming of the belt which drives the generator via the turbines.

This picture is taken from the opposite side of the river. You can barely see the “dam” in front, built to redirect the water to the opposite side of the river, to feed the power plant. 

  All throughout South-West Czech, towns by rivers have these power plants. So, what does that have to do with Folsom Lake? Why didn’t they build a higher dam in Pisek?
The land behind Pisek is pretty flat, so there is no way taller dams are possible, but by each town having its own power plant every bit of water flowing down-stream can be used. Folsom Lake is not that different, other than that it is bigger, but water still has to flow through the turbines to generate electricity.

On this picture you can see how the water is funneled into the power plant on the upper part of the river.

Compare this to Folsom Lake (1955) north of Sacramento, California. It is a much higher dam, but very dependent on precipitation which has been lacking for the last four years. It performs the same function: generating electricity for Sacramento. Because of the elevation difference, the dam could be built higher. Besides electricity, adequate amounts of water are released to keep salt water from the San Fransisco Bay to seep inland into the delta, when it is high tide. It also provides water for Sacramento. Now the lake is almost empty.

A full lake on the top, and how it looks now (November 2015) below, after 4 years of drought.

Hundreds of people headed out to Folsom Lake to see ruins from the old Mormon Island settlement.

Mormon Island thrived during mining years with as many as 2,500 people, complete with four hotels, a school and seven saloons, according to some historical accounts.

According to the California Department of Water Resources, Folsom Lake has about 168,000 acre feet (1 acre foot = 1,233 cubic meter (m³)) at the moment, about 17 percent of capacity and only about a third of the typical average storage of 502,146 acre feet. A year ago, the reservoir had just under 556,000 acre feet stored.  Brian Hickey/KCRA

The Dead Sea

Our Dutch engineer, who visited New Orleans, has a name: Roland Winter. Roland got his engineering degree from Delft University in Holland. Delft University is very well known and respected in Europe and really all over the world. It is an engineering school with numerous venues of study. Water management is probably one of the most prominent areas, and that is what Roland did. His study had to do with dike construction. After his studies, he worked with the Delta werken team for a year or so. The Delta Works (in English) project jumped out after the 1953 flood in South-Western Holland. The ideas were not new, but that flood sped up the process. Basically, instead of strengthening every dike around each island of the provinces Zeeland and Zuid Holland, the islands were connected with dams on the ocean side, and the water behind those dams, controlled.

Then Roland joined an engineering company, which dealt with dike and dam construction. He was involved in various projects but a big project on the Dead Sea in Israel became his long-term responsibility. The Dead Sea has a very high salt concentration, but also is rich in potassium, which is used primarily in fertilizers. To win salt, was not economical. That is more economical in places like the San Fransisco Bay, where you can see the salt beckons from the air, as the plane approaches San Fransisco airport.

"A process is proposed for the recovery of potassium from brines by precipitation as potassium perchlorate, followed by conversion to potassium chloride by liquid anion exchange with a tertiary amine in the form of its hydrochloride. Regeneration of the amine salt is effected by means of lime and hydrochloric acid. The process was tested on Dead Sea brine, containing 13 g/l KCl. Precipitation at 30 °C gave a 40% yield of potassium, cooling to 0 °C increased the yield to over 80%. The anion exchanger used was the hydrochloride of trioctylamine dissolved in toluene; this performed satisfactorily and phase separation was easy. A separation factor of 130 was obtained for the ClO4/Cl separation. Regeneration of the amine was tested with various bases."  (The recovery of potassium chloride from Dead Sea brines by precipitation and solvent extraction   J.A Epstein,  D Altaras, E.M Feist, J Rosenzweig   Copyright © 1975 Published by Elsevier B.V.)

In Israel, the salt beckons are just that, but the process of extracting potassium is attractive. So, what to do with the salt? It is just left after the water, that is pumped into the beckons, evaporates. This means that the dikes around the beckons need to be raised every 7-8 years, and that was Roland’s job to design how much higher they should become. Also, because the Dead Sea level is lowering, the water got further and further away from the pumps, so they had to be relocated closer to the water. That also was Roland’s responsibility to figure out for the contractors. Every 4-5 years Roland would go down to Israel for a month or so to evaluate the situation, take the measurements, then redesign the new dike elevation. He did this for his whole career, besides smaller projects in between.

Delta’s: how they influence lives and culture

A Dutch engineer visited New Orleans on a vacation. Being involved with water projects in Holland and Israel, he was curious how people in and around New Orleans had dealt with “hurricane Katrina” and the consequences.

Early in the morning on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States. When the storm made landfall, it had a Category 3 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale–it brought sustained winds of 100–140 miles per hour–and stretched some 400 miles across. The storm itself did a great deal of damage, but its aftermath was catastrophic. Levee breaches led to massive flooding, and many people charged that the federal government was slow to meet the needs of the people affected by the storm. Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were displaced from their homes, and experts estimate that Katrina caused more than $100 billion in damage.

New Orleans was at particular risk. Though about half the city actually lies above sea level, its average elevation is about six feet below sea level–and it is completely surrounded by water. Over the course of the 20th century, the Army Corps of Engineers had built a system of levees and seawalls to keep the city from flooding. The levees along the Mississippi River were strong and sturdy, but the ones built to hold back Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne and the waterlogged swamps and marshes to the city’s east and west were much less reliable. Even before the storm, officials worried that those levees, jerry-built atop sandy, porous, erodible soil, might not withstand a massive storm surge. Neighborhoods that sat below sea level, many of which housed the city’s poorest and most vulnerable people, were at great risk of flooding.  (from: HISTORY article, "New Orleans after 10 years.")

The Dutch engineer traveled the area, observing the dikes, dams, and water management projects in the area. He noticed that a lot of the damage could have been prevented, and a bit of his Dutch pride about how water management is handled different in Holland, kicked in. After all, Holland was also a delta of the Rhine and Maas rivers! He wondered why a lot of houses were built in marginally protected areas of the delta. He wondered if technology about water management was more advanced in Holland.
Did You Know?
During the past century, hurricanes have flooded New Orleans six times: in 1915, 1940, 1947, 1965, 1969 and 2005.

       Our Dutch engineer became more interested in the “why’s” of flooding, because he realized that American and Dutch technologically about water management were not that different. Engineers in both countries have a good idea of the conditions and risks that exist at any time. Didn’t they manage to not have such a high density populated, or expensive businesses, in flood prone areas in Holland? He would try to find that out after his return to Holland, from vacation.


Language, culture, and floods

We had taken a language learning course before going to the Czech Republic. In the course the challenge was: “to learn a new language like a child”. This was not entirely possible, like we learned our native language, but in the adult world, language is taught like a subject together with science, math and history. Our teachers disagreed with that concept. You learn a language to communicate the same thing in a different way than your native tongue. It is not strictly language. You have to learn the cultural setting in which the language is used, as well.

With this knowledge we went to Pisek, Czech Republic. Of course, Czech is all we heard around us, most of which we could not understand. Most of the people we came there to serve, were at English camp that first week, so we were pretty well on our own. The second week we would get to visit the camp for a day.  

It had been raining a lot, which is common in July and August. We also had some nice days, so we had no concept of how much rain had already fallen. Pisek lays on the Otava River. The north shore rises pretty steep above the river, while the south shore is just flat land. One afternoon  it started to rain pretty heavy, into the evening. We went to town, shopping as best we could and were exhausted by evening hearing Czech all day. We went to bed, but around 2 am, heard people go by under our window at a steady stream. We also heard loudspeakers, but could not understand it. We lived in the center of town, on the main square with a lot of activity during the day, but at 2 am was unusual. It had pretty well stopped raining. We decided to get dressed and follow the crowd, gravitating across the square down to the river. There we found a pretty large crowd watching as the water rose. At several places, openings along the levy were boarded up, in case the water got that high. Well, it did get that high! We stood by the oldest stone bridge of Eastern Europe from the 1340’s, connecting the southern side with the entry gate on the north side, into the old town. Heavy tree limbs were caught on the bridge pilers, creating a dam-like construction. Helicopters were flying over and loudspeakers were used to warn the people on the south-side of the river to leave their houses and apartments, as we later learned. 

Along the south side just behind the levy, was a block of apartments built by the city. It was pretty modern with shops on the ground level and an underground parking garage. The roof line was rounded on both ends which made it look like an upside-down ship. It became known as the “Titanic”. This night, that was very appropriate as the water kept rising. Then it happened; it went over the bridge and over the levee on the south side of the river. Everybody was silent, watching from “our” side, the north, as the water was flooding the homes and stores across the river. Gradually people went back home again, wondering what the next day would bring. We also went back to bed.

The next day we watched some Czech TV which showed the extend of the flooding. It was pretty far-reaching. Helicopters were back, flying over the Titanic, where people were lifted out. Those people did not believe it would be that bad and that sooner or later they could get out. They forgot that even though they were on the second and third floors, power had to be disconnected, and though the water was receding, it took several days before they had access to their apartments. It was called a “400 year flood”. Due to the extend, this kind of flood was to occur about every 400 years. The roads into town were pretty well all blocked off, so we could not get our container until two weeks later because Prague was also affected by this flood. We were urged to buy bottled water since the water supply system was contaminated due to the flood. We only found out, because we saw people coming out of the grocery store across the street, with many bottles of water. 

The English camp we were to visit that week was also on a small river, which exceeded its boarders. Fortunately the building remained dry, but the campers could not leave there for several days. Thus we never made it to visit the camp.

Dobra voda

  This morning I got overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude, as I remember from mornings in Pisek, Czech Republic sitting in the living room nook looking both ways overseeing the park across the street with the tall trees and the railroad levee in the back. I thought back to the saturdays I went to the spring to get water. I would meet people there doing the same, sometimes people I knew. That was such a restful place, up in the forest. Sometimes I walked, sometimes I went on my bike with a backpack full of plastic bottles. In Czech plastic bottles were always saved for something, in this case to get water at the spring. There was enough water for a week, to use for coffee and tea, for cooking, or just for drinking.

Dobra voda, in English means: good water.