2023 VetsWork Field Note: Jacob Brainard

by | Field Notes, VetsWork, VW 2023

Here at the Savannah River Forest, my fellow Mt. Adams VetsWork intern and I have spent the last few months filling in as the primary operators of one of the site’s phytoremediation facilities. The Savannah River Site has several such facilities that utilize different methods of remediation. Our facility consists of roughly 60 acres of mixed hardwoods and planted pine, situated uphill from a pond containing the water from a contaminated groundwater plume.

We maintain the level of the pond using two methods, evaporation and irrigation. The evaporation is achieved using industrial-scale misters that are fed by a floating pump in the middle of the pond. These fan-like machines spray the contaminated water into the air over the pond in tiny fluid particulate that is more easily evaporated than the water at the surface of the pond. The irrigation system uses a series of pumps and pipes to extract water from the pond and spread it around the facility to be absorbed by the local flora; like a large sprinkler system. Both systems require regular operator input and maintenance, as does the area in which they are situated. Every day we collect points of data that help to determine which of the methods to operate on a given day, and then monitor the system while it is in use.

I have learned a fair bit about facility maintenance in the time I have been here and, the experience is all the more rewarding for the knowledge often comes as a result of trial and error. Week to week new obstacles arise, pipes break, trees fall, and lines clog and we handle things as they come. Our current nemesis is a shut-off valve that refuses to cease leaking. I am confident that we will have that sorted out in due time. My day-to-day activities here may be somewhat atypical of what a VetsWork intern might expect because The Savannah River Forest is not a typical forest, however, I do appreciate the opportunity to learn about this form of environmental clean-up so thoroughly.