Robins plant works overtime to treat groundwater

  • Published
  • By Wayne Crenshaw
  • 78th Air Base Wing Puclic Affairs
Nelson Rosa is working hard to make his job at Robins unnecessary.

When the Groundwater Treatment Plant opened at Robins in 1997, it was expected to take 30 years before it would have cleaned all the contaminated groundwater on base. Now it's on track to have that job largely completed in another five years, at which time the plant operations could cease.

"We are pretty much working to put ourselves out of a job," said Mr. Rosa, the operations manager at the plant.

The efficiency of the plant has once again been recognized by the Georgia Association of Water Professionals. On March 18, in a conference at Callaway Gardens, the group for the seventh time named the Robins facility the Plant of the Year for industrial water treatment plants in the state.

The plant does not produce water to be used for any purpose, said Phil Manning, an environmental engineer at Robins. It extracts contaminated water from six sites on the base, using a network of about 40 wells and eight miles of reinforced pipe to protect against spills as the water is piped to the plant.

After the water is treated it is sent to the Ocmulgee River. The final product, Mr. Rosa said, is cleaner than the river water. While it is not recommended for drinking, he said it would probably be OK to drink. He recalled a general visiting the plant one year and a colonel showing samples of the treated water.

"The general's last question was 'How do I know this water is clean?,'" Mr. Rosa said. "The colonel opened a jar and drank it. The general said 'That's good enough for me.'"

The contaminated sites are mostly the result of disposal done at Robins decades ago when environmental protection standards were a far cry from the strict regulations of today. Much of the contamination, Mr. Manning said, comes from barrels of solvents that had been tossed into landfills. Three of the sites are old landfills, another is from a storage tank that leaked, and another came from a leaking pipe. The contamination is not a threat to drinking water on base because that comes from a much deeper aquifer, Mr. Manning said. Although the contaminated water is not a threat now, he said, the purpose of the cleanup is to make sure that it does not become a threat in the future.

The influx of rainwater into the contaminated sites replaces water that is pumped out, but as the process continues the water becomes more diluted and less of a threat, Mr. Manning said.

Although it is manned only eight hours per day, thanks to computer technology the plant operates around the clock, processing 650 gallons of water per minute almost non-stop. Each plant operator has a computer hookup at home where the vitals of the plant can be monitored during off hours.

In fact, in 2008 the plant operated 99.6 percent of the time, with the only down time being the occasional repair or maintenance. That also earned the plant the Gold Award from the association.

"A lot of plant operators would give their eyeteeth to have the kind of up time that we have here," Mr. Manning said.

The plant also won the association's Safety Award for having no lost-time accidents in its history.

The high-tech plant employs a system that uses ultraviolet lights, chemical feed pumps and granular activated carbon filters. The plant costs a total of $17.2 million which includes the original construction and two expansions. It is operated under contract by EarthTech.