Changing the flow of downrange water
New purifiers eliminating need for bottle shipments
By GEOFF ZIEZULEWICZ, MATT MILLHAM AND MARTIN KUZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 16, 2011
NAPLES, Italy — NATO spends about 50 million euro a year to ship approximately 200 million half-liter bottles of water to NATO bases in Afghanistan, often across long and dangerous supply routes.
Increasingly, those stationed at forward bases are purifying their own water — reducing cost, risk and the need to dispose of those millions of plastic bottles. Some even say the purified water tastes better.
ISAF spokesman Tim James, who provided the statistics on the cost of moving the water, said much of it is shipped from Pakistan via long and dangerous supply routes that have repeatedly faced insurgent attacks.
“There is a significant effort to increase the amount of water sourced from within Afghanistan,” James said in an email.
According to National Defense Magazine, the Marines are using 25 Lightweight Water Purification Systems. Each can fit in a Humvee and pump out 125 gallons of potable water per hour.
The service has 21 Tactical Water Purification Systems in place as well, according to the article, which can filter up to 1,500 gallons an hour.
Marine units are not mandated to use the systems, but are encouraged to do so, Col. Robert J. Charette Jr., head of the commandant’s expeditionary energy office, told National Defense.
“Every time you have to move large amounts of bottled water, we put our Marines at risk,” he said.
According to National Defense, a Marine Corps team tasked with figuring out the full cost of delivering essential supplies to Afghanistan found that hauling water takes up 51 percent of the logistical burden.
A gallon of water delivered to hot spots in-country costs the military $4.78, according to National Defense.
The U.S. Navy is testing the use of unmanned helicopters to deliver water and other supplies.
NATO commands in the north and southwest draw water from local wells that is purified and bottled for use, James said.
More wells are being created across the country, James said, with a large bottling plant set to open in Kandahar later this year.
ISAF Joint Command does not track how many gallons of water are produced annually by the coalition; many nations don’t report water data, according to command spokesman Sgt. 1st Class Eric Brown.
The Marine Corps has several efforts under way to wean units off the costly and dangerous-to-deliver bottled water.
At the Musa Qala district center in Helmand province, home of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, the ubiquitous pallets of water seen at bases throughout the war have been replaced by a lightweight purification system.
There are six systems in the battalion’s area of operations — two at battalion headquarters, two at Company K headquarters in Talibjan, and two in Now Zad. The HQ uses between 400 and 500 gallons of purified water daily.
The majority of water used by the companies in the battalion, spread across Musa Qala and Now Zad districts, is now purified by Marines, according to Cpl. Joseph Laflamme, who oversees water at the district center.
“It tastes pretty good, actually, in my opinion,” Laflamme said. “I almost would rather drink the water out of this than bottled water.”
Laflamme said it tastes better than bottled even after chlorine has been added, so the water can stand for longer periods before use.
“And I know I made it, or our guys made it,” he said, “so being able to drink what you made is more rewarding.”
The Marines have deployed the lightweight systems to 25 locations, and “tactical” purification systems to larger camps, though they did not specify a number.
Army Capt. Steve Nachowicz, the support company commander for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division stationed at Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar province, plans to curb his unit’s dependence on bottled water by month’s end.
He said the base receives three water shipments a day via helicopter. Each delivery consists of three pallets holding 120 cases of bottled water, with a dozen half-liter bottles per case.
Not long after arriving this spring with the rest of the unit, Nachowicz, of Bolingbrook, Ill., found an unused bulk-water tank. The hulking machine can purify 1,500 gallons of water an hour through reverse osmosis.
In simple terms, the tank removes bacteria and other unwanted microscopic detritus by pushing water at a high pressure through a ceramic membrane that acts as a filter.
When the tank is moved into position sometime in the next couple of weeks, a large hose will siphon water from the nearby Kunar River. The purified water will be stored in a 50,000-gallon container and drawn off into 500-gallon cylinders that can be moved anywhere on base.
Running the machine two to three hours a day could nearly eliminate the need for bottled water at Bostick.
“We’re trying to reduce the cost of having water brought in here,” Nachowicz said, “and we’re trying to reduce the amount of waste — all the plastic bottles that have to be burned.”
The U.S. tried something similar five years ago in Iraq by having the six largest bases produce their own drinking water to reduce the number of supply convoys on the road.