Team effort keeps Balad water supply safe

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ruth Curfman
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
For Airmen stationed at Balad Air Base and Soldiers at the co-located Logistics Support Area Anaconda, staying hydrated is crucial in the desert heat of Iraq.

In order to keep hydrated, servicemembers here need to have the confidence the water available to them is safe, so the water undergoes extensive testing by multiple sources to ensure its safety.

"Not only is the water safe for personal use, but we even ensure that the bottled water and ice meet the same standard," said Master Sgt. Anthony Dudley, the Logistics Support Area Anaconda Mayor's Cell superintendent of life support who is deployed from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. "I personally check the water, drink the water and see the test results monthly and I know that the water here meets the highest of standards."

Army preventive medicine professionals agreed.

"The water used on this base goes through very rigorous testing procedures that are designed to ensure that the water produced for human consumption is of the best possible quality and safe to use," said Army Capt. Bryan Rudyk, the 155th Medical Detachment Preventive Medicine commander. "Considering all of the testing we perform on the water here on a daily basis, we probably have some of the best water around."

The military is not only held to Department of Defense regulations, but also it must meet federal regulations.

"The water produced here and utilized for hygiene purposes is the very same quality water that is produced and bottled here at LSA Anaconda," Captain Rudyk said. "However, the bottled water is actually bottled and capped in a sterilized environment, which is the only difference between the bottled water that we drink and the water used for personal hygiene water."

Although KBR, a government contracted company, controls and provides oversight to the main water processing and testing facilities here, Soldiers and Airmen also conduct their own tests.

"The Army is considered to be the proponent service for field water. We are the people who draft and ensure everyone involved in water production is following the doctrine that governs water testing and production," Captain Rudyk said. "We have very strict standards and everyone involved in this process, not only meets these requirements, but exceeds them. After all, we are not only responsible for the water quality at Anaconda, we also have six other (forward operating bases) that the water produced here is provided to."

The testing and water safety assurance doesn't stop there.

"Another important test we perform on the water here is considered point-of-use testing," said Army Capt. Jennifer Wojtaszczyk, the 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion officer in charge of Force Health Protection. "The reason this is such an important test is because we physically go out to the exact site where people use the water to collect samples that we have tested. This ensures the water they are using at the point of use is tested and approved."

Members of the LSA Anaconda Mayor's Cell, which provides oversight on the infrastructure and support functions of the base, is also deeply involved in this process.

"The Mayor's Cell monitors everything happening on this base," Sergeant Dudley said. "This includes the water production processes and testing, as well as the distribution and adherence to standards."

In addition to the testing performed by the military agencies, which is performed daily, or on a monthly basis, depending on the tests being conducted, KBR tests the water multiple times each day as well.

"KBR conducts more than 1,500 various water quality tests per day and even tests the water hourly at the intake valves," said Capt. Paul Lane, the 332nd Expeditionary Aerospace Medical Squadron officer in charge of Bioenvironmental Engineering, deployed from Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. "They also conduct tests every four hours before it is distributed to base personnel to ensure water quality."

The general tests run on the water check its basic properties -- chemical, biological, and radiological properties and for chemical warfare agents. These tests are Department of Defense tri-service standard requirements.

"Most of these tests are similar to Environmental Protection Agency standards, but we perform more tests more frequently," Captain Lane said. "We also go one step further by testing for chemical warfare agents as well."

One of the ways KBR removes bacteria from the water is by a process called reverse osmosis. This process filters out organic and inorganic particulates, salts, bacteria and viruses. It uses a thin membrane to remove all particulates down to 0.000034 microns. To put this in perspective: one grain of salt is 70 microns, the Ebola virus is 0.2 microns and the Rhinovirus is 0.02 microns. Then, chlorine is added to kill any remaining bacteria and viruses and to maintain the proper chlorine residual throughout the distribution system.

"We have more than 10 reverse osmosis water purification units and one lab that tests and provides water to the entire base populace here," Captain Wojtaszczyk said. "The reverse osmosis process is considered to be the gold standard in the water purification process and it is exactly what we use for water production."

"This is the water we use to shower and wash our hands with, but there are vulnerabilities on this base," Captain Lane said. "It's the Airmen and the Soldiers responsibility to maintain situational awareness -- if you see someone tampering with above ground waterlines or water storage tanks report it (to officials) immediately."

Due to the vast amount of testing, conducted by all of the agencies here, the most important item of information is that the water is safe for personal use.

"The water, whether bottled or for personal use, is put through the same process," Captain Rudyk said. "It is a very intense process and is state-of-the-art when it comes to water purification."

"KBR runs our water through a 15-stage purification process," Captain Lane said. "They also are only required to run the water through one 'kill-stage,' but they actually use a three kill-stage process to ensure it is safe for our personnel."

"We are doing everything we are supposed to be doing based on all regulations and published guidelines," Captain Wojtaszczyk said. "We definitely meet, if not exceed, all standards of the water purification processes to ensure all water is safe for our troops. After all, water is a very important commodity to our overall mission success."

Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

View the comments/letters page