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Lakenheath skyline altered forever

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- For more than 40 years two water towers were synonymous with RAF Lakenheath. Many new Airmen used the towers as reference points when first learning the base, and they grew into one of the major features of the skyline here.

Those towers were removed recently when the final steps of a $22-million project to upgrade the base's water system were completed. It signifies a full transition to a new, upgraded system, which provides better water pressure to the farthest reaches of the base by utilizing a reservoir and pump system instead of relying on gravity.

"There is now better water pressure across the entire base, and the new system has improved our firefighting capability," said Chris Ashmore, 48th Civil Engineer Squadron lead maintenance engineer.

The new system's capabilities include more than just water pressure.

"It has increased the tools in our bag by allowing additional fire engines to receive water from the distribution system and attack a fire without collapsing the hydrant line," said Clark Dodson, 48th Civil Engineer Squadron assistant chief fire prevention. "It has also given us the leeway to implement more of a selective response with our vehicles, resulting in less emergency vehicles on the streets and increasing public safety.

"It has also allowed us to operate more firefighting appliances from the water distribution grid," he said.

The new system will also save the base money in the long run.

Mr. Ashmore said, "They will no longer have to perform maintenance on the towers and the above-ground infrastructure associated with the old system."

Planning for the upgrade started about five years ago at the civil engineer level. It went through various stages, such as removing other water tanks that were scattered across the base, before finally culminating in the removal of the large towers.

"We originally turned the water towers off about three or four months ago, but they remained serviceable throughout the testing of the new system, just in case we needed them," Mr. Ashmore said. "Once we knew the pumps were working and the entire system was fully functional, we turned the towers off for good about a month ago."

Once they were turned off, engineers began preparing and planning for the final dismantling, which began about a week ago.

"They brought in one of the largest cranes in England to do the job," he said.

Although the civil engineers are happy to wrap one of their major projects, not everyone on base is happy to see them go.

"Those towers were part of our history," said Bill Harris, 48th Fighter Wing historian. "They were a part of our horizon for a long, long time. On any military installation, you will always have four or five identifiable features, and those water towers were one of ours."

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