31st MEU trains to turn waste into water
January 4, 2006
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — It can make wastewater from a porta potty drinkable: That’s Lance Cpl. James T. Gann’s claim about a portable water-purifying unit he and several other Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit recently set up.
The Reverse-Osmosis Water Purifying Unit was set up on Kin Blue beach on Dec. 29 for a day of training for the Marines from MEU Service Support Group-31’s Engineer Detachment. Gann, a 23-year-old hygiene equipment operator with the unit, said the system is capable of purifying up to 900 gallons of freshwater an hour, 650 gallons an hour from a saltwater source. Whatever the water’s condition, Gann said, the piece of gear could scrub it clean.
“As long as we have an area to set up and have a water source, we can make clean drinking water,” said the Beebe, Ark., native. “We need a flat piece of ground and we’ll try to get as close to the water (source) as possible.”
Once the large filtration system is in place, the Marines go to work setting up pumps, hoses and storage bags. Gann said they use 3,000-gallon “pods” to store the freshly produced water.
Set-up takes about 30 minutes to 45 minutes. Then the process begins: Water is sucked from the source and pushed to the ROWPU by a 125-gallon-per- minute pump, said Sgt. Shamel C. Edrees, platoon sergeant. The dirty water is run through a series of filters, then pumped out of the machine and into the storage bag.
Gann said the first filter pulls large particles from the dirty water, then the water is pushed into smaller cylinders that extract smaller particles. Even smaller cylinders then “pull everything else out,” Gann said, before the process is complete. The equipment operators, or a Navy corpsman, then test to ensure the water is good and add chlorine as needed.
When the units are up and running, Gann said, they are virtually maintenance free. However, he added, the ROWPU is among the harder pieces of gear for equipment operators to learn because it “has a lot of moving parts.” If the filters are doing their job, he said, the ROWPU could operate from 12 to 15 hours straight.
The amount of time spent actually producing clean water depends on the unit, Gann said. Most of the time the operators simply perform preventive maintenance on them, he added.
“To train well on them, you should run [the equipment] on a beach … saltwater,” Gann said. “Fresh water is no problem.”
Edrees said hands-on training is vital for ROWPU operators.
“Training is essential for any type of warfare,” said the 26-year-old Oceanside, Calif., native. “And water is essential … without it, you won’t survive. It’s one of the key essentials in life support.”