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Wastewater plant saves money, helps environment

Ultraviolet lights sterilize E. coli and other bacteria in water Jan. 10, 2020, at the Luke Air Force Base Wastewater Plant in Ariz.

Ultraviolet lights sterilize E. coli and other bacteria in water Jan. 10, 2020, at the Luke Air Force Base Wastewater Plant in Ariz. Wastewater collected from Luke and surrounding locations is sent to the plant where it is cleaned and returned to the environment. The facility cleans approximately 14 million gallons of water a month which is either reused on base or sent to local water sources, saving Luke approximately $200,000 in 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leala Marquez)

Tech. Sgt. George Vollmer, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuels systems maintainer, checks if there is proper distribution of water and sewage sludge in the water tanks Jan. 10, 2020, at the Luke Air Force Base Wastewater Plant in Ariz.

Tech. Sgt. George Vollmer, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuels systems maintainer, checks if there is proper distribution of water and sewage sludge in the water tanks Jan. 10, 2020, at the Luke Air Force Base Wastewater Plant in Ariz. The plant cleans approximately 14 million gallons of water a month to be reused or sent to local water sources, saving Luke approximately $200,000 in 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leala Marquez)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --

Luke’s wastewater plant helps protect the environment from hazards while saving the Air Force money. In 2019 the plant saved Luke approximately $200,000.

Base residents, employees and community members in the areas surrounding Luke produce approximately 14 million gallons of wastewater a month, according to Tech. Sgt. George Vollmer, 56th CES wastewater treatment plant noncommissioned officer in charge. With nearly 7,000 employees and more than 6,000 family members, Luke shares the environmental responsibility and uses the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron-operated treatment facility to clean wastewater generated by the base’s population.

“With a large base population, you are going to generate a lot of waste, and it needs to go somewhere,” said Vollmer. “This plant enables us to treat that waste and to return it into the environment without impacting it.”

Engineers process the water through five stages of cleaning to remove any contaminants.

Dave Kudray, 56th CES lead wastewater operator, explained the wastewater goes through pretreatment first to remove larger debris such as rags or grit. Next, the water passes through anoxic basins and an oxidation ditch to remove nitrates. From there the water moves through a clarifier where septic sludge is separated from the water. Then, the water is processed through a tertiary sand filtration system to remove suspended solids. Lastly, plant operators use ultraviolet lights to sterilize the water eliminating E. coli and other bacteria.

“Water takes approximately 18 hours to go from the influent of plant to effluent of plant,” said Kudray. “We treat an average of 400,000 gallons a day.”

When the treatment process is complete, the system guides the clean water to pond for future use.

“[It’s used] as reclaimed water on all the grass areas on Luke AFB and Falcon Dunes Golf Course or the Agua Fria,” said Kudray.

Cleaning wastewater from the base is not only environmentally friendly, it also helps save money.

“Last year, we saved 65.6 million gallons of water that was sent back to Luke for irrigation which keeps costs down and saves potable drinking water,” said Vollmer.

Engineers operate in three shifts to ensure the plant runs 24/7. Each shift is responsible for different tasks essential to keeping the plant operating.

“Maintenance and repair is accomplished on first shift,” said Vollmer. “Luke AFB has 19 wastewater pump stations called lift stations, these are checked during the second shift. Lab testing is conducted on third shift.”

Airmen at the plant ensure that the water released and the byproducts that are disposed of are not hazardous to the environment. If they are found to be hazardous they are sent to a hazardous material facility for processing.

Kudray explained, Airmen evaluate samples of water several times daily during the cleaning process to determine the water’s temperature and pH balance, and they also test the ammonia, nitrate and sludge volume in the plant.

The wastewater plant has many responsibilities that are essential to the mission. Their small shop ensures mission success while helping to sustain the environment and saving the base money.