Water plant ensures quality, distributes quantity
HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Mark Stevenson, a water plant operator for the 49th Civil Engineer Squadron, counts the drops of titrant solution needed to identify the intensity of calcium present in Holloman's potable water during a test Nov. 30, 2010. He and other water plant operators test the potable water daily to measure the calcium and chlorine levels to insure it is adequately disinfected. Although the water is purified in Alamogordo, members from the 49th CES constantly perform checks to make sure it is always drinkable. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Veronica Stamps/Released)
by Airman 1st Class Siuta B. Ika
49th Wing Public Affairs
12/3/2010 - HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Anytime a faucet on base is turned on and water comes out, whether for washing hands or getting a drink, the 49th Civil Engineer Squadron's water plant should receive praise and recognition.
Holloman has no water source within its boundaries, making the process of getting water difficult but that does not deter the water plant operators from distributing one and a half million gallons of potable water to the base each day.
The base uses water from an alpine reservoir in New Mexico, brought down from a 100 mile long pipeline, said Charlie Price, 49th CES water production foreman. However, the pipeline from the lake leads to the Alamogordo water treatment plant before coming to Holloman.
"Even though the water is purified in Alamogordo, we make sure the water is always drinkable," said Mark Stevenson, 49th CES water plant operator.
The reason why Holloman's water comes from Alamogordo is because of an agreement made around the same time of the base's creation, said Mr. Price.
Back in the 1800s, the Southern Pacific Railroad owned the water rights in the area and used the water for their steam locomotives. When the trains switched to diesel fuel and the water was no longer needed, the railroad company sold the water rights to the city of Alamogordo, Mr. Price explained.
"The Air Force then put up $13 million to build the pipeline that stretches from the lake to Alamogordo and to the base," said Mr. Price. "In return, the city agreed to allow the base to receive water for free."
The pipeline also provides water to other areas of New Mexico including the city of Carrizozo, Fort Stanton, White Sands National Park and the border patrol facilities.
When the base isn't receiving its water from the city, it relies on its water wells.
"During a drought we rely heavily on our wells," Mr. Price said. "We have some small wells that pump out 150 to 300 gallons of water a minute, and some larger ones 1,000 feet deep that can produce 1,200 to 1,500 gallons a minute."
Even though the water plant is manned 365 days a year, its supervisory control and data acquisition system plays a large role in the plant's success.
"The SCADA could take care of the water production without any adjustments for up to three weeks by itself," said Mr. Price. "When the water levels in the tanks get too low, the pressure drops too low, or the chlorine gas levels get too low, the SCADA can electronically turn the valves to make the needed adjustments within the tanks."
The SCADA system also sends out an automated phone call to alert the water production foreman if any of these above circumstances happen. It can also detect when the main pump house, the pump that distributes water throughout the base, needs to produce more water.
Even with the SCADA system, there's plenty of work for the operators to do.
"Even though our systems are getting more automated, we still have to check all the towers and swimming pools every day," said Mr. Price. "We also maintain the pipeline, so whenever there's a leak or water is shooting 30 feet in the air, we fix it."
Mr. Stevenson added that their work often goes unnoticed, unless something is wrong with the base's water.
"As long as you can turn a faucet on and water comes out, nobody knows who we are," said Mr. Stevenson. "But if they turn that faucet on and nothing comes out, everyone knows who we are."