MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The smell permeating from the Combat Center’s Waste Water Treatment Plant will get worse before it gets better.
Contractors are slated to begin deepening the treatment plant’s fermentation pond Tuesday.
Ensign Benjamin Queener, the resident officer in charge of the Waste Water Treatment Plant project, said waste buildup over the years has made the fermentation pond too shallow to work correctly.
“The waste currently flows into the pond and is supposed to settle in and break down gradually through aeration and exposure to sunlight,” said Queener, of Oneida, Tenn. “The problem is the sunlight in Twentynine Palms penetrates the water and heats up the sludge on the bottom. This causes the recently flushed material to rise to the surface like zombies.
“This is one of the reasons why on particularly hot days the smell is so much stronger,” he added. “The fix for this is to dig a deeper fermentation pit in the pond giving the waste will have a chance to sink to the bottom and break up before it moves on.”
Queener said the material excavated from the pond will be set to the side to dry. This means it will smell worse before it starts to smell better.
The treatment plant is made up of a series of small ponds, linked together, designed to break down fecal matter as it passes through each pond.
The project to restructure the treatment plant and reduce chemical and energy use, has been an ongoing process, said Lt. Cmdr. Yvonne R. Lyda, the MCAGCC public works officer.
“Design for the projects began in spring 2008,” said the Daleville, Ala., native. “Two construction projects were awarded in June to repair the primary and secondary treatment systems.”
Officials are also planning to set up other ways to break down waste and produce clean water.
“Next year we will add a natural wetland to the water purification cycle with different kinds of plants known for their ability to break down and process biological contaminants that will scrub the water clean,” Queener said.
There are several infrastructure and efficiency issues being addressed with the current waste water project, however, the most offensive issue in the eyes of installation personnel is the smell.
“Several things cause the smell and we are addressing all of them,” Queener said. “As each piece of the project is completed the odor will decrease.”
For personnel aboard the Combat Center, the new waste water treatment facility will truly be a breath of fresh air.
“Every time I run the [Physical Fitness Test] course I can smell the lake,” said Cpl. Chase Rieger, a vehicle commander with Company C, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and Bellevue, Neb., native. “It makes me want to vomit. I think more people would actually want to go to the new parks if there wasn’t a smell coming from Bandini.”
Queener explained there are two other main sources of the smell in the current configuration of the plant.
“When the waste water comes into the Waste Water Treatment Plant, there is an auger that lifts debris out of the water that might clog the system,” he explained. “This can be anything from a flushed skivvy shirt to heavy paper material. Unfortunately, the auger also has a tendency to lift out some of the more solid wastes Marines flush as well.
“All this Marine ‘debris’ then makes an amphibious assault into the waste dumpster. Imagine the worst garbage dumpster you have ever smelled,” he said.
Queener said there are plans to fix the issue, including enclosing the headworks.
“The project will fix the auger and all the headworks with a new building,” he said. “The building will have constant vacuum pressure, so it is always sucking in the bad air and not letting it out the smells. The air will vent through a large compost bio-filter that will absorb the stuff causing the stink before it gets loose.”
The last major source of odor is the clarifiers; the clarifiers, stir the sewage to help the sediments settle and to skim off lighter wastes.
“As you can imagine, stirring the pot agitates the sewage and puts off a lot of odor,” Queener explained. “The project replaces the clarifiers with other processes that are a little more palatable. The current clarifiers will be completely removed during the project.”
The fermentation pond is slated to be complete by February, and the clarifier demolition is slated to be completed in April, with the wetlands popping up in June.
Once the project is complete, Queener said personnel will still smell something from the treatment plant.
“The wetlands and open water will smell,” he said. “But it won’t be the same overpowering stench of raw sewage.”
He said the project is among the most important topics and concerns facing the Combat Center community and will be greatly appreciated when completed.
“I believe that this is the single greatest quality of life issue at Twentynine Palms, he said. “Fixing this problem not only solves the odor issue, but helps other recently completed quality of life projects like the skate parks, amphitheater and water park. People will enjoy these other parks a lot more if they don’t gag when they breathe.”