Marines: Camp Pendleton Water Safe, Clean

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Fransisco pours ocean water into a water purification pipe aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 6, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Cpl. Elize McKelvey) Despite state and federal reports outlining concerns about staffing, equipment and reservoir problems at Camp Pendleton , military officials are telling the troops and their families that the water is safe to drink.

On Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that the Marine Corps had entered into a consent decree designed to shore up deficiencies exposed during a weeklong tour of the sprawling base in late June.

The twin state and EPA inspection reports provided to The San Diego Union-Tribune revealed inspectors found animal carcasses in three reservoirs, an advanced water treatment plant that had been periodically shut down and operators who failed to routinely inspect, maintain and document equipment problems, leading to foundational cracks and inadequate seals in the water treatment system.

During a tour of a $53 million treatment plant on Friday, Camp Pendleton officials insisted that there never was a danger to Marines or their families.

"The water’s safe. All the big items that were identified have been addressed," base spokesman Carl Redding said.

Rotting rodents and frog found by EPA and state agents were immediately removed and the reservoir water "super-chlorinated" to kill any potential diseases — germs that would have been eradicated when they went to a treatment plant anyway — and their chemical sensors monitored that, officials said.

"They were all at a level that would kill anything there," said John Simpson, the director of the base’s Water Resources Department.

The Union-Tribune’s tour of the treatment works highlighted the complexity of the Camp Pendleton water system. It’s actually two systems, divided between north and south districts.

Groundwater is drawn through wells to 34 reservoirs, treated and then distributed to 18 areas that Marine commanders run like small towns. The water sluices there through more than 400 miles of pipes, many of which lead into and then exit treatment plants that strip out iron, manganese and other minerals before disinfecting it with chlorine bleach and other chemicals.

At the main southern treatment plant, six operators work 12-hour shifts daily, tracking the water as it moves through the works, listening for alarms that monitor chlorine and other substances in the system, changing filters in rows of tubes and logging into notebooks a wide range of data, from readings on a computer screen to reports of leaks.

There should be 11 operators working there, but Camp Pendleton struggles to recruit and retain water system specialists. Of the 98 positions listed on paper for the division handling both the north and south sectors, 33 remain vacant.

In the EPA report, a Camp Pendleton supervisor stated that the base typically hires "older men" who are retired and dislike working weekends or others who "would not make it at any other water system" because the base couldn’t match the wages and retirement packages offered by nearby local and state agencies.

Simpson, a retired Navy officer, said a wage study was done that could trigger […]