CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq -- He lives and works in beachfront property, overlooking the lake’s edge as he goes about his daily routine. Every day, he sees the palm trees casting shadows atop the water as the sun rises.
But you could hardly call this a peaceful existence.
Lance Cpl. Peter Ayala wakes up every morning, not to see nature’s beauty, but to put in a good twelve plus hours of hard labor.
“Six other guys and I provide an average of 45,000 to 60,000 gallons of water a day, depending on how hot it is and how many trucks come by,” explained the hygiene equipment operator with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
The 21-year-old Laredo, Texas native referred to the work he and his teammates do aboard the camp’s water point.
Here, the 2002 J. W. Nixon High School graduate and fellow Marines extract and purify water from Baharia’s man-made lake to supply thousands of service members. Personnel here and from nearby Camp Fallujah use this water mostly for hygiene and camp sanitation. It is the Marines’ responsibility here to ensure that these daily needs are met.
“We basically get up at ‘zero-dark-thirty’ every morning, and we stay constantly busy all day,” Ayala stated. “There always has to be somebody working here, so it’s not like we can just pack up and go to chow for awhile.”
Their workload was heavily increased recently when a water pump in Camp Fallujah broke down. The water point Marines said they had to pump approximately 100,000 gallons of water, nearly twice their normal load, to meet Baharia and their neighboring camp’s needs.
“This is actually kind of a test for us right now to see if we can keep the units up as long and as well as we have been,” explained Cpl. Nathan Hoin, another hygiene equipment operator. “We’re producing more than we’ve been doing the past few months.”
To accomplish this, the Marines extract raw (unpurified) water from the lake using a series of pumps. From there, this water is fed into several Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPU).
According to the General Electric Corporation, reverse osmosis uses a membrane that is semi-permeable, allowing the fluid that is being purified to pass through it, while rejecting the contaminants that remain.
As some of the fluid passes through the membrane, the rest continues downstream, sweeping the rejected particles away from the membrane. The process of reverse osmosis requires a driving force to push the fluid through, the most common form being pressure from a pump.
During the final purification step, Ayala and the water point Marines add chlorine to the water. Once ready, the clean water is stored into water bladders that contain up to 50,000 gallons.
“One ROWPU purifies about 600 gallons per hour,” Ayala explained.
Throughout the day, Iraqi contractors stop by to load water into their trucks and transport it throughout Camps Baharia and Fallujah. Ayala and his team help oversee the extraction of water from the bladders onto the contractors’ trucks.
Although the water leaves the water point in potable condition, the Marines advise service members not to drink it once it drips out their faucets and showers.
“We purify it and store it, but where it goes from there is not up to us,” Hoin explained. “You don’t know what could be inside the trucks’ storage tanks. By the time it gets to people, all the chlorine we added to the water could be gone, because it’s already eaten all the bacteria.”
However, the Marines do everything in their power to make sure the water they purify is crystal clear.
As part of their daily routine, Ayala’s crew performs constant maintenance checks on the water point’s equipment. This ensures that the ROWPUs keep a steady flow of clean water refilling the storage bladders.
Once the bladders are filled and the trucks have picked up their daily load, the Marines shut down their machines, head off to get some well-deserved rest and prepare for another busy day.
Despite the hard work they put in, the water point crew remains motivated to service their fellow Marines’ needs.
“This is my first deployment, and I can’t complain,” Ayala said. “It’s good money, and we have a good crew here. We all get along, and we all get the job done. That’s what matters.”