Scarcity of a resource as important as oil and as critical to military operations — fresh water — may be one of the most overlooked issues the Defense Department will face in coming years, DoD and outside experts say.
A Rand report commissioned by the Army and released this month identifies water scarcity as one of the key issues facing the Army in future years. The report said that the supply of water will continue to shrink around the world as population swell and climate change alters weather patterns and rainfall. This will lead to greater conflict as well as greater energy costs to transport and store water.
Since 1960, more than half of rivers and streams nationwide have shown significant volume changes and the report projects that in 2013 about 36 states will face water shortages because of drought, population growth and waste.
One recent example of the problem: On May 31, service members at Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii were reminded to restrict water use for activities such as showering, laundering and dishwashing because of a limited supply of water available on the island during the summer season. Two of the four deep wells that provide water to the installation are also in need of repair and may not work through the summer, according to the Army.
Water scarcity is also a big problem in the American Southwest where DoD has a substantial presence.
At the Army’s Fort Huachuca in Arizona, tight water restrictions mean that families can water their lawns only two months a year and only for two hours a day, two days a week. The installation has replaced grass with artificial turf in many areas to cut down on irrigation and has joined a 21-member organization made up of state and local partners to help manage water needs and maintain the supply of water to the area.
The frequency of prolonged droughts and water shortages only will continue to increase, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Droughts will proliferate in the American southwest as well, according to the study.
DoD says it has cut water use at its installations from 111 billion gallons in 2007 — about the annual water use of 1.1 million homes — to 90 billion gallons last year.
A 2009 executive order directs agencies to cut their potable water use by 26 percent by 2020 from a 2007 baseline. Agencies must also reduce industrial and irrigation water use by 20 percent by 2020 from a 2010 baseline.
DoD exceeded an interim target of a 16 percent reduction in potable water use by fiscal 2015 with a reduction of 18.6 percent in fiscal 2012.
Joseph Sikes, director of facilities energy and privatization at the Defense Department, said saving water also saves fuel needed to move water to facilities and personnel.
“If you are wasting water, you are wasting energy,” Sikes said.
“Water is a finite resource and, as there are more people, there will be greater demands for it,” said Beth Lachman, senior operations research analyst at Rand and lead author of the report.
The Army will need to analyze the water supply and political environment surrounding each of its installations in order to prepare for eventual water shortages, and it must direct greater attention to the problem of water scarcity, the report said. Lachman said the Army should work with local communities and state governments to carefully manage water resources and reduce water use as much as possible.
Sikes said DoD is tackling the issue through water-efficiency upgrades to its facilities, recycling existing water and promoting water-efficient technologies.
At Travis Air Force Base, Calif., officials are hoping to reduce their 748 million gallons of annual water use by 50 percent by 2020 by installing water-efficient fixtures and by reducing the amount of potable water available for landscaping. The installation will also train service members and civilians how to conserve water and energy throughout the installation.
Richard Kidd, the Army’s deputy assistant secretary for energy and sustainability, said reducing water use is not just about making the Army more effective, it is about establishing good relationships with local communities around its installations.
“If we consume water to the point that the local community has no access, then we are not establishing the proper relationship,” Kidd said.
Kidd said the Army also is targeting water use for irrigation — such as in its maintenance of golf courses — as areas where the Army can cut down potable water use. It is researching using “gray water” — or recycled water — that isn’t safe to drink but can be used to water plants or cool equipment.