Tech Briefs

Navy explores ways to ensure an uninterrupted supply of potable water at remote installations.

The Department of the Navy (DON) has major installations located around the world. Twenty-two main installations operate outside the continental United States (OCONUS) and rely on on-base water processing facilities. These facilities serve a total population of 71,000 military and civilian personnel, and the water plants have a total production capacity of 15.7 million gallons per day.

Typical Reverse Osmosis System Layout

A significant majority of these locations use a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system for water purification. At many of these installations, the RO systems provide the only reliable potable water source for personnel. Providing potable water is a critical and core mission of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC).

The NAVFAC Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (EXWC) traditionally provides technical support when U.S. Navy installations face obstacles in supplying potable water. In a majority of historical cases, depleted water supply issues are caused by component failures. These failures are often exacerbated by a lack of preventative maintenance and a shortage of backup components.

In the event of a system failure, contingency solutions typically cause the disruption of work, loss of mission capability, risk to personnel, and expensive emergency support and capability recovery. Additionally, when system losses have occurred at Navy installation water plants with no available contingency solutions, personnel have performed ad-hoc interim emergency repairs which may cause insufficient water production and high system risk.

Not all Navy installations have a reliable potable water backup system. As a result, if a water plant becomes inoperable due to lack of maintenance, breakdown, disaster, or terrorist activity, significant system downtime could occur, leading the installation to reduce or eliminate critical services provided to DoD forces. An investigation into the current water supply revealed four potential root causes which could lead to installation issues:

  1. Potable water plant remoteness: The remoteness of some installations, compared to CONUS sites, leads to higher service costs and impairs the ability of SMEs to service the water supply systems effectively.

  2. Compartmentalization and decentralization: NAVFAC currently allows for regional and local management and maintenance of the water systems, resulting in a compartmentalized and decentralized approach. This prevents NAVFAC from standardizing water systems and thus increases training, maintenance, and supply costs.

  3. Costs to operate and maintain existing infrastructure: The maintenance and operating costs of potable water systems continue to increase. In a fiscally-constrained environment, budgetary pressures can lead remote installations to defer routine and critical infrastructure maintenance.

  4. Plant operator quality in remote locations: Recruiting highly qualified plant operators, compensating them appropriately, and enticing them to stay at a remote location is challenging.

Any combination of these root causes at a remote installation can lead to an aging potable water system in a state of disrepair and vulnerable to significant downtime.

NAVFAC Headquarters sponsored EXWC to evaluate the use of Low Energy Contingency Desalination (LECD) units to support Navy installations during system failures and water shortages. This research focuses on the feasibility of deploying desalination systems to remote Navy installations in the event of a water contingency. EXWC personnel concentrated on the following areas of interest:

  1. Determine the viability of developing portable desalination water assets for remote Navy installations. These assets would be capable of providing potable water from various water sources, including ocean and brackish water resources.

  2. Identify the risks associated with multiple contingency-response courses of action. The team conducted two analyses to determine the projected costs, benefits, and risks associated with (1) continuing the current reactive contingency response process and (2) having an LECD unit pre-deployed to support emergent contingencies. The team then compared the costs and benefits between the two approaches.

This work was done by Brittany Arias, John Brito, Bryan Long, Rob Nordahl, Cody Reese, Joseph Saenz, and Bill Varnava for the NAVFAC Expeditionary Program Office (NEPO). NAVSYS-0005

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Feasibility Study of Portable Water Desalination Systems for Water Contingencies at Remote Navy Installations (reference NAVSYS-0005) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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