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August 14, 09

NEWS / U.S. Army Engineers Bring Sewage System to Fallujah, Iraq

Huge obstacles overcome during construction
By Phillip Kurata
Staff Writer

Washington — In 2005, the U.S. government began building the first municipal sewage treatment facility in the ancient Iraqi city of Fallujah on the Euphrates River, 97 kilometers west of Baghdad.

By mid-2009, the system was three-fourths complete and is expected to go into operation before the end of the year, according to Schappi Marsh, an engineer working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers based in Fallujah.

Once in operation, the new system will improve the health of the people of Fallujah as well as those living downstream, because the Euphrates is the primary source of drinking water. The project is one of the highlights of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq and employs many Iraqis from Fallujah and surrounding areas.

The project has 450 Iraqi workers building the system, with 35 engineers visiting various sites daily, checking quality of construction and monitoring safety procedures. Members of the Corps of Engineers meet regularly with several Iraqi construction firms that are carrying out 13 separate contracts, as well as Iraqi officials from the city and central governments, to ensure that issues are resolved and the project continues to completion.

Both Corps engineers and Iraqi engineers, as well as Iraqi workers, have overcome a host of difficulties — security threats, funding breakdowns, safety issues and quality controls — to bring the project within sight of completion.

“We feel that with all the problems that have been thrown at us, we’re in fact a $100 million raging success,” said Peter Collins, who was chief engineer on the project from August 2006 to May 2009.

Marsh said the remaining work involves getting individual houses connected to the municipal system. “We can run branch lines up to the property lines of houses, but because of liability issues, the homeowners are responsible for making the actual connections to the sewer system. We’re still looking at final connection and how to do that,” he said.

Chris Allen, another Corps engineer stationed in Fallujah, said it would be useful for wastewater engineers from the United States to come to Fallujah to work side by side with Iraqis for several months to provide training in new methods of system maintenance. “I’m optimistic that every time we turn a project over, it will be taken care of and we give the Iraqis another opportunity to impress us,” he said.

The system will collect the wastewater from 27 percent of the city’s households and run it through a treatment facility that will produce fertilizer and pump decontaminated water into the Euphrates. The Iraqi government will install the wastewater collection system for the remainder of the Fallujah households.


Collins said that Iraqi workers were threatened just for showing up at the work site. He said those workers showed commitment and exceptional courage.

“Several times equipment was hijacked on the road and had to be ransomed. Several times the drivers were shot and killed,” Collins said. “You have to admire these people, greatly admire them,” he said.

He added that security has improved and, since the end of 2008, the pace of work on the system has picked up as a result of the return of the Iraqi project manager to the work site. (The manager had left with his family for Syria because of earlier threats, according to Collins.)


Despite the dangers and difficulties, Collins, Allen and Marsh say they have gotten high satisfaction from working on the Fallujah sewage project. “To think that in the last three years, we have actually brought this through to 80 percent completion gives me a big kick,” Collins said.

Allen recounted an anecdote that showed popular support for the sewer project. “On one of my first visits to a job site, I saw a bunch of transformers with a message spray-painted on them, ‘Please do not steal these transformers. They’re for the sewer project. They are for your benefit,’” Allen said. “The message worked. The transformers have stayed put.”




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