October 8, 2008

Water Is The New Oil For U.S. Soldiers In Iraq

A top Pentagon official said on Tuesday that soldiers, weapons, food and fuel are important but the U.S. Army absolutely cannot operate for long without water.

Tad Davis, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and occupational health, called it a "simple fact" that is just as true for domestic bases as it is in "austere" forward installations in Iraq.

"Somebody recently said water's the new oil and there's a lot to be said for that," Davis said.

"You can get out there ... and deploy to an area for conducting operations, but if water's not there for drinking purposes and for cooking, showering, laundry, things like that, then you're not going to be able to sustain the force."

Davis said 80 percent of cargo in Army convoys headed into forward areas in Iraq over the last several years consisted of fuel and water. To make the convoys shorter -- and therefore less of a target -- the Army worked on making bases more fuel-efficient and looked for ways to reuse or purify existing water supplies.

He said, so far, they have set up six water bottling facilities in Iraq to serve U.S. Army needs.

Davis said the dimensions of the problem are more complex in the United States, because the Army is in the midst of a construction boom to accommodate an additional 75,000 soldiers over the next three or four years.

The Army expects to spend $56 billion during that period, on new construction and every new building must meet the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver standard set by the U.S. Green Building Council for environmental sustainability.

Additionally, some soldiers are returning to the United States from posts in Germany and South Korea, while others are transferred from domestic bases that are being closed, meaning the biggest bases are going to need more water in the future, Davis said.

Davis said the U.S. bases that will accommodate all this increased population are already under stress. Many were built before the U.S. population migrated to the suburbs and now are hemmed in by suburban sprawl, with nowhere to expand to training facilities or other functions.

The Army is conducting pilot studies at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Bliss in Texas to measure current water consumption, future consumption in five-year increments, the surrounding communities' water needs and the available sources of water.

Davis said it all goes back to security. "If we don't have water, then we don't have the ability to perform at those installations."


Image Caption: Sgt. David Williams, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 502nd Infantry Regiment, dances with Iraqi children in Shula, Iraq, June 8, 2008. Williams and his unit are installing barriers throughout the city.  (US Military)