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Sgt. 1st Class Maria Hammer of the 692nd Quartermaster Battalion at LSA Anaconda, Iraq, explains how the ROWPU — Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit — makes water for the base, which consumes 400,000 gallons a day.
Sgt. 1st Class Maria Hammer of the 692nd Quartermaster Battalion at LSA Anaconda, Iraq, explains how the ROWPU — Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit — makes water for the base, which consumes 400,000 gallons a day. (Ron Jensen / S&S)
Sgt. 1st Class Maria Hammer of the 692nd Quartermaster Battalion at LSA Anaconda, Iraq, explains how the ROWPU — Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit — makes water for the base, which consumes 400,000 gallons a day.
Sgt. 1st Class Maria Hammer of the 692nd Quartermaster Battalion at LSA Anaconda, Iraq, explains how the ROWPU — Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit — makes water for the base, which consumes 400,000 gallons a day. (Ron Jensen / S&S)
Soldiers fill up a water truck at LSA Anaconda, Iraq. The base is home to about 15,000 soldiers.
Soldiers fill up a water truck at LSA Anaconda, Iraq. The base is home to about 15,000 soldiers. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

LSA ANACONDA, Iraq — The members of the 326th Quartermaster Detachment (Water Purification) are in a race.

They have to purify enough water to stay ahead of the amount used daily by about 15,000 soldiers at this logistical support area 40 miles north of Baghdad.

So far, they are winning.

“We can do 3,000 gallons an hour,” said Sgt. 1st Class Maria Hammer of the 326th.

That’s the output of one Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit, or ROWPU. The unit is one of 10 on base belonging to the 692nd Quartermaster Battalion, an Army Reserve unit out of New Castle, Pa. Each machine runs about 20 hours each day.

That’s a total of 600,000 gallons of water purified each day, enough — barely — to keep ahead of the base, which has a thirst for about 400,000 gallons each day.

“It can go up to 500,000,” said Capt. Heather Davis, a battalion member.

The ROWPUs sit near the canal that runs alongside the sprawling, dusty base. In the canal is made up of water from the nearby Tigris River. The water is horrid, containing raw sewage from both animals and humans. However, the locals seem to pay no attention to their water’s condition.

“We’ll watch them on some days,” said Capt. Brian Farester of the quartermaster battalion. “They’ll bathe in it. They’ll swim in it. They take a big scoop [with their hands] and drink it.”

Since the troops would risk cholera, typhoid or something worse if they did the same, the quartermaster unit is in Iraq to turn that putrid river water into something clean and healthy.

Lt. Col. Bill Griffith, the battalion commander, said the water that comes out of a ROWPU exceeds the water quality standards in the States.

“We continually fight the image that this water is not as good as bottled water,” he said. “Not necessarily true.”

Simply put, the ROWPUs purify the water by filtering it and filtering it and filtering it some more. Each step takes additional impurities from the water.

“When it comes out, it’s pure,” said Hammer.

Chlorine is then added to prevent later contamination from dirty buckets or trucks. Davis’ company does frequent tests to keep the chlorine at about two parts per million.

The treated water is stored in large rubber bags set side by side on the base. Each holds 50,000 gallons of water.

“The property book calls it a storage and distribution system,” Davis said, but it is often referred to as a “bag farm.”

Filled, the rubber bags reach five feet in height. In the summer heat, a few ruptured, spilling their contents across the landscape.

“When they rupture, they just explode,” said Davis. “It makes quite a flood.”

Around the region, the 692nd Quartermaster Battalion has continued to pump new life into the water supply for troops.

“Right now,” said Maj. Gregg Putnam of the 692nd, “we’re getting close to 70 million gallons.”

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