Water Damage Decontamination, Lessons Learned.

Posted in All About Equipment

By finis55 (aka Dave)

Some history as this applied to me.


During the month of June, 2008 the Gulf Stream brought up a large amount of warm moist air as per the norm, but the Jet Steam settled more southerly than usual and so the stage was set for rain and storms, which is what happened. This was complicated by a preceding winter that spread some 20 to 58 inches of snow and ice which made for a high water table that was present in June of this year do to a late - rapid thaw during the the later months of the spring.


Some 15 inches of rain fell in the first 14 days of June, 2008, some local reports were quoted at 21 inches in the same time period, combine these factors and a disaster was in the make.


In my case living in rual Iowa my thought was I would not be affected, not the case, as the rivers backed up run off had no-where to go, a community septic lagoon was sub-merged and my issues became two-fold.


  • The dry creek that our run-off funnels to joins the Cedar River which backed up, creating a 4 to 6 foot lake though-out the northern part of our county
  • The Septic lagoon became over-run, lift stations became use-less, this caused sewer back ups county wide.

The outcome in the case being discussed;


My lower foundation windows were forced open by the water and my tanks that were in my basement were “floated” specifically my 180 gallon which was directly under a window when the water came in, literally “blowing” the canopy off the tank and the rest as they say is history. The flood “seige” lasted for 4 days, with the un-stable weather pattern came Tornados, 100+ mile per hour strait line winds, hail, you name it, and in the end a basement and tanks full of rain water run off and fecal filled sewer back up


I gained a lifetime of knowledge through mistakes made during that time, and I thought “It could never happen to me”.


I was pondering the last 4 months of clean up and thought that a few of the experiances that I have had, and the lessons I have learned would cross over to any-given situation that involved waste water contamination of any aquarium, whether it be flood, sewer back up. I thought it would be beneficial to relate these issues and steps to mitigation that I have learned to possibly save any-one in the community some costly mistakes that I have already made.


I have found that getting the water that is contaminated out of your tanks and filters to be linear with the urgency of getting that same water out of your basement or where ever it has gathered. In my case the substrate in my tanks seemed to breed acrid smelling contaminates at a faster rate than the bare concrete and carpet that was damaged, I believe that was due to the porus form of the substrate, the warm temperature and the stagnate nature of an un-circulating tank. Once the tanks where empty, substrate removed and filters dumped, the time spent versus not removing a perfect breeding ground for bacteria was soon realilized. Nothing special about how to get this done, a 110V portable sump, a mixing bowl for a scoop, and all was completed in 1 hours time. I found that I could both pump the tanks out while removing carpet, I also found that waiting to get things emptied proved to make the over all situation much worse.


The obvious second step in any mitigation is to get the home in order, what to do with the tanks, pumps, filters and everything else associated with the hobby in the mean time? Just simple space as needed. In my case a garage, I was suprised to find just how long it can take everything to dry, there is a definate connection with your climate, in my case hot and humid during the summer, which did not help things in any event. Rinsing, cleaning? I found that a quick rinse is a waste of precious time at this point, just let it sit until the imminent issues are delt with.

The 40 gallon Rubber-maid I found to be a life saver as to storage of the limitless count of “durables' associated with the hobby.

Clean up

After several months in my case or how-ever long it would take there is the daunting task of the clean up. I have found 4 things to be paramount in this task. A childs plastic swimming pool, a 55 gallon clean steel drum, Scotch pads (green scrubbers) and Bleach.


Here is were I would stress ventilation, even with a 5% solution Bleach can and will make you sick. I found myself nauseated on several occasions, quelled with the addition of a simple 20 inch box fan. In any case give yourself plenty of fresh air.

The tank

Nothing but elbow grease, a 5% mixture of bleach and water, and scrub. Over time the silt, odd looking growth that had since dried and general grime will come off, I scrubbed, rinsed and repeated 3 seperate times until I felt it was clean. Taking into consideration my 180 gallon is glass I found the Scotch pads to be very effective and non-scratching, I also found that “soft scrub” and other non-abrasive cleaners are generally in-effective as a substitute for elbow grease as the suds, foam ect., do nothing but increase the work load involved by adding rinse time 5 fold.

The filters

A 55 gallon drum filled with a 5% bleach water mix, I discarded the Mechanical and Bio-filtrate material left in the trays (Cascade 1500's) and let them run. Initially 3 out of 5 has some noise to them, I associated that with silt, sand ect in the impellar nest since in my case there were running when flooded, a quick back flush through the motor impellar unit quelled that. I let them run, re-circulating the bleach water mix for a full 12 hours. The material discharged in the drum was at first impressive, so I emptied and re-peated until clear, aprrox. 16 hours total.

The Substrate

I pitched it. I started out thinking I could simply soak 150 pounds of gravel in a childs swiming pool with a cerfactant of some sort, but found that the more I tried to save it the worse off my situation became, it in short order became apparent that was a lost battle from the get go, the slime, other acrid material that had dried came back to life, and although I enjoyed the look of that particular substrate, I lived to fight another day so-to speak.


I did find the small swimming pool very effective for “tossing” in the nets, larger rocks and the ease of having room to scrub them was appeciated.

The Stand

In my case hand built with Cedar, a once over with a pressure washer and a standard “Deck Wash” worked fine. The stand for the 75 gallon was a compressed wood, store bought item and was destroyed.


Total time to clean, dry, and reset? Two weeks. The watch words for the event, Rinse, Rinse , Rinse!! Since the tanks have been back up I have done 50% water changes twice weekly and will do so for two weeks before the cycle officially begins.


I hope in the un-fortunate event anyone would have to deal with an issue such as this they could learn from my mistakes and save-themselves alot of time………