FORT RILEY, Kan. - Built atop a manmade hill at Fort Riley is the Water Treatment Facility where employees work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure the Fort Riley community has safe, clean water each time they turn on a faucet.

Fort Riley's water comes from eight ground well sources that are 500 feet from rivers or other above groundwater sources to avoid contamination and provide proper filtration, said Ricky Clover, plant operator at the Fort Riley Water Treatment Facility. The safety and quality of the water is also regulated by the Safe Water Drinking Act from the Environmental Protection Agency, Kansas Department of Environment and Health, the Department of the Army and the Directorate of Public Works -- Environmental Division.

Since the water comes from ground wells, it goes through a natural filtration process that removes many contaminants as it passes through the earth, Clover said. However, that same filtration also introduces minerals, such as calcium, which percolates, or filters through gradually, into the water and must be removed at the facility.

"Earth is the best filter possible," he said. "We do draw from wells. It is considered a groundwater source, which makes the water very stable. The problem is that in any water source, water will pick up minerals and stuff as it flows through the ground too, so that's where you get your hardness … and when it flows through the ground … (it) picks up those minerals, but it also filters out all the bad stuff, so any type of pathogens or basically any organics you would get in surface water from wastewater treatments plants that are upstream. The ground is a natural filter from all of that."

Once the water reaches the facility, it flows through a five and half hour-long process at a variety of stations that settle, filter, balance pH, decontaminate and more before the water reaches homes, buildings and fire hydrants. The first of the steps is a filtration system that runs the water through a natural filter consisting of granite, gravel, sand and anthracite, Clover said. From there, it travels through air towers and blowers, which strip some of the minerals out before sending it on to a water softening process.

"From there, it gets pumped up here and then we go through a softening process in which we add lime and by manipulating the amount of lime we use, we create a pH that actually precipitates out a lot of the minerals," he said.

The lime added to the water varies daily as each well has different pH and hardness levels that come with different requirements.

Following the softening process, the water is moved to another pool where polymer is added to clarify the water as the lime gives it a somewhat cloudy appearance, then it travels on through a flocculation and sedimentation process, Clover said. The flocculation process causes microscopic particles to bind together and to be paired with the sedimentation process and removes additional minerals and particles from the water.

Once the sedimentation process is complete, the water goes through another filter, at which point the turbidity, or cloudiness, of the water is tested to determine how many particles remain in the water. This process is done by testing the light reflection within the water to determine it is no higher than one nephelometric turbidity unit, which measures concentration of suspended particulates. The water is tested four times a day to verify it meets or exceeds regulations, Clover said.

"We go through the softening process, then we go through an area where we can add polymer, then it goes through a flocculation and sedimentation and from the sedimentation," he said. "It goes on through filtration, which our limit for turbidity is one NTU, which is just a light reflection, which is very, very clear, and from that point it actually gets chlorinated … then it gets pumped to the distribution system."

Once the chlorination process is complete, the water is sent to a 70,000-gallon clear tank to settle and decontaminate before moving on to a one-million-gallon tank to continue the contact time.

"It goes to a clear well after it gets chlorinated where it sets and has what we call contact time, which gives it time where it sits and decontaminates," Clover said.

At Fort Riley, an average of two million gallons of water is used every day. During irrigation times, that usage climbs to three and a half million gallons, he said. Although the water has left the facility, the operators continue to observe and test it even when it reaches homes and offices. The operators head out every day to different areas on post, including each neighborhood, to test if the water quality is the same standard as when it left the treatment facility.

"We go everywhere and check the chlorine and make sure it's safe," Clover said.

The current Water Treatment Facility was completed in December 1992, said Steve Stanislow, environmental protection specialist, Directorate of Public Works.

Prior to it, the water at Fort Riley was treated only with a chlorine process because of how clean and safe it already is naturally, Clover said.

The facility was built to match new standards and water treatment processes set from federal entities, such as the EPA, Stanislow said.

"The federal regulations set the minimum requirements for the drinking water quality," he said. "Based on that the plant was designed to accomplish that by removing any solids, softening the water since we have hard water, and adding chlorine to the water to ensure we do not have bacteria or pathogens in the water."

Water treatment and quality is not the only responsibility of the operators. They also manage and maintain water quantity to ensure Fort Riley has an adequate supply, maintain standards after the water leaves the facility and assist in fire protection by keeping a secure supply of water available to fire hydrants, Clover said.

"We are unsung heroes completely because we have to provide fire protection -- we do a lot more than maintain the quality of the water," he said. "We also have quantity concerns, we do fire services, we've got to make sure there's enough water for fire protection and we also flush the distribution systems and take quality samples at every end of our system so in every neighborhood, we do daily samples so if there's any problem with the quality, we catch it."

The water quality on Fort Riley exceeds federal standards and may be some of the safest in the nation, Clover said, because of rigorous process it goes through.

"Our water -- everything is perfect … The EPA regulates water quality," he said. "We have not had any violations while I worked here at all and our water quality is ranked way above (standards)."

To review the latest Consumer Confidence Report on Fort Riley water quality, go to www.riley.army.mil/Portals/0/Docs/Services/RileyServices/Environmental/2016CCR.pdf.

For any questions about Fort Riley water quality, call the Fort Riley Water Quality Protection Regulations Manager at 785-239-8491.