Water quality, conservation at Altus AFB

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kenneth W. Norman
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Water conservation has become increasingly important at Altus AFB due to an ongoing drought in Southwest Oklahoma. In addition to the amount of water, the quality of the water has also become an item of interest for on and off-base residents.

The City of Altus is currently at stage-three water restriction. Tom Steed Lake, where the City gets its water, is below the desired threshold and sits at 32.3 percent capacity. As consumers of city water and responsible stewards of Oklahoma's environmental resources, Altus AFB has, to the greatest extent with mission demands in mind, complied with local water restrictions.

Airmen across Altus AFB are engaged and have a heightened awareness of water conservation in their daily lives. Water conservation will continue to be an item of interest for all residents of both the City of Altus and Altus AFB.

"We do appreciate [Altus AFB] water conservation efforts," said Elizabeth Gray, City of Altus administrator. "We know that the residents at the base have been very water conscious and that does not go unnoticed by the City officials."

The quality of the water is also an item of importance that base leadership has expressed to the Altus AFB community.

The 97th Medical Operations Squadron bioengineering flight routinely monitors for the presence of drinking water contaminants by collecting water samples twice per month. The results from a recent testing confirmed the drinking water has exceeded the standard for total trihalomethanes, or TTHMs. Despite the elevated TTHM levels, there is no immediate risk to human health.

Stage-three drought: What are the restrictions?

According to City of Altus Emergency Ordinance Number 2013 - 04 during stage-three drought:

Restrictions and Prohibition:

Upon certification of the conditions for Stage 3, the Mayor shall limit all outside water usage to one day per week including but not limited to watering of lawns, trees, shrubs, gardens, bedding plants, and commercial car washes. Customers may only water one day per week until the alert stage is changed. Vehicle washing shall be limited to washing at commercial car washes only, no more than one day per week. Car wash facilities shall be closed one day a week, on the day they are eligible to water shrubs and trees.

Washing or hosing down of sidewalks, driveways and streets, filling of swimming pools or other recreational uses is prohibited. In addition the following shall also apply:

Irrigation: It shall be unlawful to utilize spray irrigation in any but the following hours: 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. for automatic sprinkler systems. 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. for hose-end sprinkler systems. It shall be unlawful to operate a soaker hose, bubbler or drip irrigation system in a manner that causes the delivery of more water than the hose, bubbler, or system was intended by the manufacturer to deliver. It shall be unlawful to operate a soaker hose, bubbler or drip irrigation system in a manner that causes water to run down the curb or off the intended area for irrigation. Nursery Plant stock is exempt from the provisions of this section.

Swimming Pools: It shall be unlawful to operate a water feature on a residential pool, including, but not limited to, fountains, waterfalls, descents, arcs, and slides. If repairing a pool, it shall only be drained to a level necessary to affect the repair, and no further. An owner/operator of a pool who follows this restriction will be allowed to re-fill the pool after the repair. An owner/operator of a pool is restricted from draining a pool once it is closed for the season.

For access to the complete Emergency Ordinance 2013 - 04, visit www.cityofaltus.org

What are TTHMs?

According to a report from the 97th MDOS bioenvironmental engineering flight, TTHMs are a group of chemicals that are classified as disinfection byproducts. DBPs are the result of water treatment, i.e. chlorination, reacting with organic material in the water. The standard number of TTHMs set by the EPA for drinking water is 80 parts per billion. The level of TTHMs averaged 190.4 parts per billion from February 1 - May 31, 2013.

"Basically what's happening is the TTHMs are caused by total organic carbons, which are naturally occurring," said Capt. Megan Batten, 97th MDOS bioenvironmental engineering element chief. The chlorine reacts with the organic carbons and creates the TTHMs and acids. The issue here is the TTHMs, so basically we have excess organic carbon during treatment."

According to Batten, there is no immediate health risk associated with the drinking water, but there is a small risk from long term exposure.

"There is some risk, but it is very small," Batten said. "When the EPA sets their levels that they have for the drinking water it is based off a lifetime of exposure."

The City of Altus has been required to test for DBPs in drinking water since 1998. In 2011, the city was assigned a Notice of Violation from the EPA for elevated TTHMs, based on samples that were averaged between July 2010 and June 2011. The City of Altus has been in violation since that time and is required to send notices quarterly to city residents of the violation. The city's treatment system for DBPs is currently offline and is being renovated with an estimated completion date of April 2014.

"We test for four of the species of TTHMs, said Gene Lester, City of Altus water treatment plant supervisor. "There is organic carbon in our raw water--we try to remove as much of that as we can. We aren't quite achieving enough removal, so when we add the chlorine as a disinfectant the TTHMs form."

How to reduce levels of TTHMs in drinking water:

There are a number of ways to reduce the level of TTHMs in drinking water.

"You can install Reverse Osmosis systems or under the sink systems, but what you are looking for in the treatment is that it treats for Volatile Organic Compounds," Batten said. "If you wanted to you could also purchase bottled water or use a tower unit water system."

The 97th MDOS bioenvironmental engineering flight also suggests treating water with an activated charcoal filter that is labeled to remove VOCs, although these methods are not required.