MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
The wastewater treatment plant here is the largest of the four plants (water, sewage, waste and heating) aboard Cherry Point. Its purpose is to successfully treat the wastewater created by personnel aboard Cherry Point and reintroduce it into the ecosystem without causing harm to the environment.
The process to reintroduce the water is extensive and in-depth.
According to TC Davis, the wastewater treatment plant operator in charge, the wastewater treatment plant processes 2 million gallons of water daily.
After water from various sinks, shower drains and toilets aboard the air station makes its way through the sewage system and into the plant, bacteria is introduced, which breaks up the solid waste particles in the water. This is done with bacteria that is either grown in the laboratory at the plant or encouraged to grow naturally by the plant operators. No outside chemicals are involved in the process.
“We encourage the growth of certain bacteria at certain stages while the water moves through the plant,” said Fred Schimmel, a wastewater treatment plant operator. “It’s all a matter of adding the right cultures and regulating them at the right times.”
Schimmel stated that the process could be automated by introducing computers that regulate the bacteria levels, but using experienced human workers makes the process more precise and cost-effective.
As the water enters the plant, it is put through the biological nutrient removal reactor, where ammonia nitrogen is converted to nitrate nitrogen, keeping the nutrient levels low in order to prevent harming wildlife in the nearby Neuse River, said Davis.
Next, clarifiers remove the solid particles in the water, including the bacteria used to treat the water. Any remaining bacteria and particles are removed when the water is run through the sand filters.
After passing through the sand filters, the water is disinfected by ultraviolet rays, which kill any remaining disease-causing pathogens.
Schimmel and his team work 8-hour shifts making sure that the plant has 24-hour coverage every day of the year. They are constantly observing the plant’s activities by computer, as well as taking water samples in various stages of the treatment process and testing them in the lab. The samples are checked for bacteriological organisms, metals and other harmful elements.
“Tests are run on the water all day, constantly,” said Schimmel. “We make sure substances such as ammonia, phosphorous and nitrates do not make it into the finished product.”
What leaves the plant is far different from what is received, Schimmel explained.
“We are responsible for reporting directly to state authorities, since we discharge our treated water into the Neuse River,” said Schimmel. “Everyone knows that the Neuse River is brown and muddy, but the discharge from the plant is clear. It’s very impressive considering what we have coming in.”
Schimmel and Davis consider the process to be vital education for the general public who, for the most part is relatively unaware of what happens to its wastewater.
“It is essential for the public to be informed on the process we use,” Davis said. “The work we do helps to make the receiving streams the public uses for recreation safe and clean.
“Public education is a big deal,” Schimmel said. “People don’t think about where their water goes. Our job is putting it back into the environment without doing any harm.”