Scott AFB's utilities privatization garners national attention

  • Published
  • By Jennifer McCabe
  • Air Force Civil Engineering Center Public Affairs
The culmination of five years of water system improvements at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, has attracted the attention of the Partnership for Safe Water, an initiative developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and other water organizations to increase water quality.

The organization awarded American Water its Director’s Award last month for comprehensive upgrades that improved the safety and reliability of the Scott AFB water system, which currently serves 15,000 people.

Only six water systems have earned the award since 2007, which recognizes utilities that have completed comprehensive distribution system self-assessment reports. The reports are reviewed and validated by a team of industry experts from across the nation.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center awarded American Water the 50-year utilities privatization contract in 2007, creating a $6.3 million cost avoidance for the Air Force.

"Utilities privatization allows military installations to obtain safe utility systems that meet current industry standards," said Rick Weston, who leads the Air Force Civil Engineer Center utility privatization program management office. "Maintaining utility systems is no longer a core competency of the Air Force. Private industry does it day in and day out, so they can normally do it cheaper than we can."

Building sustainable Air Force installations requires an investment in dependable energy-efficient utility systems and, for the past 15 years, the Air Force has upgraded utility systems by privatizing them. To date, the Air Force has privatized 66 systems, creating a cost avoidance of $361 million.

Currently, the Air Force has 85 systems, including electric, natural gas, water and wastewater, which are in various stages of the privatization solicitation process.

"Historically, bases have been underfunded," Weston said. "Over the past 20 or 30 years, maintaining Air Force utility systems was not a high budget priority. Consequently, our systems have degraded substantially."

Such was the case at Scott AFB, where system degradations there led the utilities privatization contractor to make several improvements to the system, including replacement of more than 95,000 feet of mains and distribution lines in the 245,000 lineal feet system and development of an accurate water system map of the base.

Enhancements were also made to the valves and storage tanks. Of the 1,100 existing valves, 20 percent were initially inoperative and the statuses of many others were unknown. Also, four of the base's large storage tanks were experiencing excessive water flows, creating the potential for water stagnation and reduced water quality. To correct the situation, a specially-configured computer system now controls the valves and sensors trigger them to open and close based on tank levels.

The enhanced system is already showing signs of improved reliability, officials said. While the base experienced 35 main water breaks in 2008, there have only been seven breaks during the first half of 2014. The system also improved efficiency, with the base using 50 million gallons less water in 2013 than in 2008.

In addition, the improvements not only increase drinking water quality, but also reliability and availability for potential firefighting activities.