By Lash, Fred C.
National Defense , Vol. 95, No. 690
* Potable water supplies are a vital resource on any battlefield. To meet the demand in current wars, the U.S. military purchases huge quantities of commercially bottled water in addition to equipping and using organic water purification units.
Bottled water has become the preferred option among deployed troops. Within Marine Corps units, it is seen as more convenient and seems to taste better than purified water. Marines are more confident of its quality because each bottle is sealed.
But the cost of delivering bottled water to the troops is rapidly becoming unsustainable. Bottles create large amounts of litter and are far more expensive than the water provided by military purification units. Bottles also have created a security problem in Afghanistan. The convoys needed to truck in bottled water are vulnerable to improvised explosive devices, which pose great risks to convoy personnel.
Raw water sources are available in the Helmand River basin in Afghanistan. But these water sources have both chemical and microbiological contaminants and require treatment before use. Because of the economic costs and risks to life of providing bottled water, the Marine Corps is looking at technology alternatives that can be used to treat indigenous raw water.
Forward operating bases depend heavily on convoys to supply their basic needs. It's not unusual for a base to be located in an area with no potable water. In these cases, trucks are likely needed to haul in vast quantities of fresh water on a regular basis. According to the Marine Corps Survival Manual, each individual in the field in Afghanistan needs to consume at least (2).(6) gallons of water per day in order to remain healthy.
A Defense Department study shows the cost of delivering bottled water to troops in Afghanistan to be $4.69 per gallon. With a daily water demand of (5).(2) gallons per marine per day (the amount for all uses), just supplying water to approximately 20,000 troops costs nearly $500,000 a day.
In the southern basin, the Helmand River represents (40) percent of Afghanistan's surface water and is the main source.
Afghanistan relies on groundwater, which represents the most consistent water source in both rural and urban areas, But a geological study said that (65) percent of protected, closed wells and (90) percent of open wells--the most common drinking water source in many areas--are contaminated with coliform bacteria.
More than (80) percent of Afghanistan's water resources originate in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The snow accumulates in the winter and melts in the spring. Water pollution from raw sewage is the most significant environmental problem and health threat to deployed personnel. Nationwide, water sources are contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. Coli and Leptospira.
There is equipment available that can purify both freshwater and saltwater. Marines, however, do not have their own well drilling capability.
Company-sized water purification systems are en route to Afghanistan, where larger-scale systems are also getting more use on remote battlefields.
Two key systems are now being employed by the Marine Corps and the Army that will let them transform any water--even salty seawater--into something that's safe to drink.
The Lightweight Water Purification System, or the LWPS, fits in a Humvee and can produce up to (125) gallons of potable water per hour. The other mediod for purifying water is the Tactical Water Purification System (TWPS). It filters and cleans 1,200 to 1,500 gallons of water an hour, enabling a utilities team to fill large bladders with drinkable water at staged water points. The TWPS is carried on a (7)-ton truck, and can be set up by an engineer support unit in approximately 30 minutes. In Afghanistan, there are (21) of these systems. The TWPS more than doubles the production capacity of the older reverse osmosis water purification units that has treated water for a generation of military troops. …