Military Prepares for Future Water Shortages

By Allyson Versprille
Military bases need to start implementing water conservation practices today in order to avoid shortfalls 30 years from now, said one government official.

In 2014 the Defense Department issued a memo directing each military installation to report on its water rights, usage and availability. The collected data will be compiled and assessed in 2016. “This policy seeks to ensure that the Department of Defense has taken adequate measures to plan, prepare and provide for an adequate water supply to meet mission needs,” the memo said.

The study will be used to identify which bases are most vulnerable to water shortages, said John Conger, assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment. “What I’m really trying to find is … which [bases] are heading for a train wreck,” he said, “and where they are heading for trouble, how we can slow that train down.”

The need to enforce a large-scale data collection became apparent after studies over the past five years identified issues at several bases, he said.

At Fort Huachuca, an Army post in Arizona, the nearby San Pedro River is drying up. That threatens endangered species and limits the amount of water the base can use, Conger said.

Water doesn’t usually get the attention it deserves because it costs less than other utilities such as energy, he noted. Out of the Defense Department’s annual $4 billion utility bill, less than 10 percent of that is spent on water, he said.

It also fails to gain recognition because water supply shortages are 30 plus years away, he added. However, “if we plan for it today … then we’re pushing out the time that we have to worry about it,” he said. “It is far cheaper to start doing smart things well in advance of a crisis than to wait until we have a crisis and try to scramble.”

Besides water shortages, some bases face water quality issues, Conger said.

At Fort Irwin in California, “there are high levels of arsenic and fluoride in the water that are naturally occurring,” he said. A public notice currently posted to the base’s website describes the dangers of overexposure to the contaminants which are present in some sources at levels above California state standards. Too much of either can result in a range of ailments from bone disease to cancer. In 2013 the base began construction of a new water treatment plant to address quality problems, he said. The new plant, which will be completed in 2016, is also expected to improve water efficiency to 99 percent, according to a Defense Department fact sheet.

Topics: Defense Department, Energy

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