WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Soldiers, weapons, food and fuel are important but the U.S. Army absolutely cannot operate for long without water, a top Pentagon official said on Tuesday.
This simple fact is just as true for domestic bases as it is in “austere” forward installations in Iraq, said Tad Davis, the Army’s deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and occupational health.
“Somebody recently said water’s the new oil and there’s a lot to be said for that,” Davis said at the Reuters Global Environment Summit.
“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.”
In Iraq, 80 percent of cargo in Army convoys headed into forward areas 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, Davis said.
Ultimately, they set up six water bottling facilities in Iraq to serve U.S. Army needs.
In the United States, the dimensions of the problem are more complex, 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, Davis said.
Over that period, the Army expects to spend $56 billion 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.
In addition to an absolute rise in the number of troops, 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.
The U.S. bases that will accommodate all this increased population are already under stress, Davis said. 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.
To determine how much water will be needed, Davis said 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.
“It all goes back to security,” Davis said. “If we don’t have water, then we don’t have the ability to perform at those installations.”
Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko