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Drone may check water tower

When the city of Desloge begins to check out the condition of its 130-foot municipal water tower, rather than using a human being to climb the ladder, a drone may be used to perform an inspection of a filter.

In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration has been cautious about allowing unpiloted vehicles to zip around the skies. There are numerous safety concerns — they could crash into buildings, interfere with airspace or cause other problems.

In February 2015, however, the FAA moved to allow limited use of drones. Commercial use of drones in the United States was permitted as of 2016. As of 2018, the drone regulations advise that operators can fly only during daylight or twilight, with altitude and speed restrictions. Also, drones must be kept in the line of sight of an operator.

The possibility of using a drone instead of a climber to reach the top of the water tower was discussed at the Oct. 8 meeting of the Desloge Board of Aldermen after Chief Water Operator Roger Fibbs brought up the need for the inspection. A week later, City Administrator Dan Bryan said the board is still willing to give it a try.

“There’s a filter on top of the tower itself that needs to be inspected on a periodic basis,” he said. “In the past we’ve sent a man up the ladder to the top of the water tower to inspect that filter. We explored the idea of maybe using technology we weren’t able to do five or 10 years ago, but we’re able to do now.

“We’re considering the option of sending a drone up there to make a video and visibly inspect the filter that way and see if we can get good and clear footage to make a decision rather than sending someone up the side of the water tower on the ladder to visually inspect it in person.”

At the meeting, Alderman Jason Loughary who teaches at UniTec brought up the possibility of making the water tower inspection with a drone as a project for his students.

“His students have drones and they’re always looking for projects and things like that,” Bryan said. “I haven’t heard back from Jason yet for a solid ‘thumbs up’ on the overall idea or when it might happen. That’s who we would use. We would use the equipment there and do a joint partnership with North County and UniTec with the students doing this particular project for us. I think that would be a fun and interesting afternoon, for sure.”

When asked if he had ever used a drone, Bryan laughed and said, “No, not me personally. I mean, I’ve tried a little RC (Remote Control) helicopters and things but not a drone — never. I wasn’t good at what I did before, so I don’t want to wreck a drone.

“I personally wouldn’t be interested in doing it, but I would really want to be there to see it. I think that would be a neat thing to see and I could see a video of the project overall and putting it on our city’s Facebook page — just putting it out there. It’s an interesting idea for sure.”

On top of giving UniTec students a chance to work on a project with the city, not having to pay the cost of hiring someone to climb the water tower would save the city money.

“You know, it’s kind of two different methods and especially if it’s done by UniTec because it’s definitely an experience in itself,” Bryan said. “It would serve two purposes. It would provide the students some education in that area where they’re looking to expand, plus it would give us the opportunity to keep those men off that ladder or searching for someone to do that. I just think it’s all around a win-win situation.”

“In the past we’ve sent a man up the ladder to the top of the water tower to inspect that filter.” — Dan Bryan, Desloge city administrator

All Desloge water customers will see an increase of $2.50 per 1,000 gallons on their water rates beginning with their July bill. Rate increases are needed to move the water department to self-sufficiency, officials said.

All Desloge water customers will see an increase of $2.50 per 1,000 gallons on their water rates beginning with their July bill. Rate increases are needed to move the water department to self-sufficiency, officials said.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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