Air Force reaches anniversary milestone at former McClellan base

  • Published
  • By Alex Grotewohl
  • AFCEC Public Affairs
The groundwater treatment plant on the former McClellan Air Force Base is celebrating its 30th birthday this year. While cleanup workers won’t be trading their hard hats for party caps, the progress made during the last three decades is plenty of reason to celebrate. 
During its tenure as an active-duty base, McClellan served as a major hub for repair and maintenance of military aircraft and weapons systems. Because of this role, the groundwater and soil underneath McClellan had become contaminated by industrial solvents and degreasers. 
In the mid-1980s, the Air Force took precautionary measures in coordination with the City of Sacramento and Sacramento County by connecting residents near the base to municipal water supplies and deactivating wells. Additionally in 1987, the Air Force built a treatment plant to receive water from a handful of extraction wells on the west end of the base. By 2005, a network of 104 extraction wells had been installed. Today the treatment plant cleans approximately 1,450 gallons of groundwater per minute. 
“The cleanup program here at McClellan is one of the most extensive and aggressive projects in the nation,” said Steve Mayer, BRAC Environmental Coordinator for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. “This effort reflects the commitment to protecting the communities we share.” 
Another huge component of McClellan’s environmental cleanup success has been clearing the soil of contaminants. This has stopped pollutants from reaching the groundwater in the first place and makes it possible to transfer former military property to the local community, bringing jobs and investment to the McClellan region.  
In the early 1990s, McClellan became one of the first sites nationwide to use large-scale soil vapor extraction, or SVE, treatment technology. SVE is a cleanup technology that vacuums contamination vapors from the soil and treats the vapor prior to discharge to the air. At one point, there were 14 active SVE sites on the base. However, due to the success of SVE at McClellan, only three of these systems are still in operation today. And while the maintenance and monitoring of the closed landfills on the base will continue forever, the process of extracting contaminants from the soil is in its final stages.

“Cleanup programs certainly take time, but it’s pretty remarkable to think that we are nearly finished with the decontamination of the soil on-base,” said Mayer. “While the groundwater treatment process will not be finished for some time after, we anticipate that the final soil cleanup activities will be completed by 2021.” 
All this success in cleaning up what’s under the surface of McClellan has facilitated the rehabilitation of everything above it, from the protection of wildlife and habitat to the welcoming of businesses and jobs back to this community.  
Today there are more than 220 businesses and 15,000 jobs located on McClellan. The Air Force is also nearing completion of transferring all its remaining property to local ownership; by the end of 2017, fewer than 100 acres will be left to hand over. 

Despite McClellan serving as a bustling business and commercial park with an active airfield, the mixed-use campus also includes the 220-acre West Nature area, which will be protected as a wildlife preserve in perpetuity. This area includes vernal pools, geographic features which provide a foothold for delicate and threatened species.

"Many of the plants and animals in vernal pools can't live anywhere else" said Molly Enloe, AFCEC natural resources project manager. "A 220-acre nature preserve in the middle of an urban area is a very special accomplishment, and it is fundamental to the survival of some of these species that rely on this space for a safe home.”

In the 30 years since the construction of the groundwater treatment plant, McClellan has come a long way. While there is still some work yet to be done, the progress is remarkable, and the Air Force will keep marking birthdays until the job is finished.