One of the dirtiest jobs at Luke Air Force Base isn’t even on the base itself. The off-base waste water treatment plant is operated by a team of three civilians and five Airmen who work around the clock.
They operate 24/7 to ensure the entire base receives clean and safe drinking water. However, just because the water ends up clean doesn’t mean it started out that way.
Between 500,000 and 600,000 gallons of waste flows into the water waste treatment plant every day and may contain anything from viruses and bacteria to oil and gas.
The water is treated with chlorine as a disinfectant, heated and stored in two above-ground tanks on base. The water must also meet federal and state laws before being distributed.
Keeping the facility operating and maintaining the different systems can mean actually getting into the waste itself and performing the required repairs. But even though the job can get dirty, it can also be rewarding.
“The best part of my job is feeling like I’ve made a positive impact on the environment,” said Senior Airman Josh Billett, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuels system maintenance technician. “By recycling and saving water, I feel like I am making a difference in more ways than one.”
It’s not just their chain-of-command that these Airmen have to comply with – it’s also federal and state laws, said Senior Master Sgt. David Corbett, 56th CES Operations Flight superintendent.
“Airmen who operate the plant are trained to maintain all plant systems,” Corbett said. “They are required to meet or exceed Environmental Protection Agency standards or the plant could face up to $25,000 in fines for various violations.”
Recent upgrades to the plant have not only made treatment of the water less hands-on, it has also eliminated much of the odor associated with the plant.
“We upgraded our ‘Head works’ which is where the waste first flows into the plant,” said Billett. “Previously we were using an old system that was uncovered and allowed odors to escape. Our new system is mostly covered, which helps, but it also cleans itself as it runs, which in turn prevents those odors from being released.”
Chief Master Sgt. David Staton, 56th Fighter Wing command chief, said he really can’t decide what he thinks the dirtiest part of the job was.
“Just look around – everywhere you look you could get dirty,” he said. “We have these heroes out here every single day working their tails off and getting dirty just to make sure we have clean and safe reusable water. My hat is off to them.”
For information about the quality of Luke’s drinking water, visit www.luke.af.mil and click the “Base Drinking Water Quality Report 30 Jun 2011” link.