Luke AFB wastewater plant saves money, helps environment

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

Base residents, employees and community members in the areas surrounding Luke produce approximately 14 million gallons of wastewater a month, said Tech. Sgt. George Vollmer, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron-operated wastewater treatment plant noncommissioned officer in charge. With nearly 7,000 employees and more than 6,000 family members attached to the base, Luke shares the environmental responsibility and uses the 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,” Mr. Vollmer said. “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. Finally, 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,” Mr. Kudray said. “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,” Mr. Kudray said.

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,” Mr. Vollmer said.

Engineers operate in three shifts to ensure the plant runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each shift is responsible for different tasks essential to keeping the plant operating.

“Maintenance and repair is accomplished on first shift,” Mr. Vollmer said. “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 who work at the plant ensure 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.

Mr. Kudray said the airmen evaluate water samples several times daily during the cleaning process to determine the water’s temperature and pH balance. They also test the ammonia, nitrate and sludge volume in the plant.

Editor’s note: Airman 1st Class Leala Marquez is with the 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs office at Luke Air Force Base.

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