By Ms. Cathy Segal (TACOM)November 10, 2016
Although the Doobie Brothers and Linda Ronstadt weren't singing about the quality of water when they sang "Black Water" and "Blue Bayou," respectively, it wouldn't have mattered to the Army's Petroleum and Water Systems experts. Whether the water is black, blue, fresh, salted, brackish or even contaminated, Soldiers at home and abroad, and citizens in the U.S. and other nations affected by natural disasters know they can count on advice and support from PAWS to make it safe to drink.
The Product Manager for PAWS falls under TACOM's Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support. TACOM Life Cycle Management Command sustains the program by fielding the equipment and training operators to help remove flood waters or purify, store and distribute water when local systems are knocked out. All they need is an operator, fuel or a power grid to keep the equipment running and a source from which to pull treatable water, such as a large river, stream, lake or pond.
The PAWS program is the leading U.S. military organization for the development and deployment of ground-based military petroleum and water efforts. Its Soldiers and employees are subject matter experts who often act as advisors leading up to and during worldwide humanitarian relief efforts requiring fuel and potable water.
Approximately 1,000 systems have been prepositioned at undisclosed overseas locations and regionally at inland locations across the United States. Active-duty Soldiers operate and maintain the equipment overseas, while Army Reserve and National Guard units field much of it in the states. Units in every state have operators and maintainers who can run and take care of the equipment.
"Humanitarian relief efforts are unique," said Dave Meinke, assistant PM for PAWS Fielding and Logistics. "Some are a direct result of Mother Nature and others can be caused by war or disease. Some develop fast while others develop over time. As such the severity of the need, the urgency of the need and type of support needed drive what type of solution is developed. We often are not the direct solution but rather play an advisement role," he added.
PM PAWS played an advisement role for Haiti following a devastating earthquake there in 2010. Subject matter experts provided recommendations on what type and how many fuel and water systems were needed there to support relief personnel, and Navy medical and refueling ships.
Two of the most notable natural disasters in the U.S. for which the Army was the direct solution were hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Hurricane Katrina flooded many of the south's blue bayous with the Gulf of Mexico and displaced more than a million people along the Louisiana-Mississippi border in 2005. Army National Guard "water dawgs," as they are called among their peers, helped purify water for drinking, cooking and showers. When Superstorm Sandy set records for maximum recorded water levels in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in 2012, Army Reserve units helped clear floodwaters to aid recovery and cleanup.
Bob Shalewitz, supervisor for the Water Treatment and Handling Equipment team under the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, said they took a system that could purify 100,000 gallons per day to the Biloxi Regional Medical Hospital after Hurricane Katrina. "I think we purified almost a million gallons over the months we were there. Before that they were bringing in 30 or 40 tanker trucks a day," he recalled. "They actually cut a hole in Interstate 10 that ran right along the water so we could run our inlet pipes right from the Gulf across the street to the hospital."
Shalewitz also said that Army units set up a smaller purifier near a makeshift kitchen in a strip mall parking lot. They tied into the water main and sent a few hundred gallons of potable water per day to the kitchen to use for cooking and to a shower tent for relief from the 98-degree heat, he explained.
Army Reserve units from outside of the area hit by Hurricane Sandy were activated to respond to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. Although they did not purify any water, the water dawgs did use Fort Dix's 600-gallon-per-minute fuel pumps and 800,000-gallon capacity fuel system supply points to remove and store water from flooded areas and buildings almost 90 miles away.
Two of the areas they cleared out were Hoboken, New Jersey; and the Brooklyn Tunnel in New York. Storm surge and high winds "filled up Hoboken like a bathtub," according to one report. Meinke recalled that city officials were glad to see them show up. "Hoboken had anything from 125 [gallons per hour] pumps with 4-inch hose capability, and then a lot smaller. You've seen those guys that go down and fix utility work with a small pump; that's typically what your average city utility would be provided. Maybe a 350 pump, but not a lot of them. But here we show up with 28, 600s -- 600 gallons per minute is a lot, that's moving some stuff," he boasted. They sent those same pumps to the Brooklyn Tunnel. "We had that thing pumped out in an hour and a half; they were estimating it would take two days with the city assets. They put two 600s on there and …," he added, ending his sentence with a loud sucking sound. Although they took 28 pumps in response to Sandy, they used only 16 at various locations.
According to Meinke, the standard practice before Katrina and Sandy was to position equipment in each state so governors could activate their guard units to use it. "But after Katrina and then after Sandy, people realized that those units can't be activated -- their own families are involved in [the emergency]. Two of the units in Sandy that were close to the coast showed us pictures of their equipment six feet under water, so the equipment was even damaged," he explained. "Now when guard units are activated they grab the nearest equipment and go. So even if the East Coast gets hit, they're not going to rely on those troops, per se, to dig themselves out. They're going to activate other units, or be prepared to, and start moving equipment that they know that they're going to need, which are water and petroleum assets."
The water assets use a combination of reverse osmosis and filter cartridges to put out anywhere from 75 to 3,000 gallons of potable water per hour, depending on which system is used. Untreated or contaminated water is drawn through an inlet and passed through a pre-screen to remove debris such as dirt, rocks, clay and other items that can clog the filter. Once it is filtered and treated it comes out as clean, drinkable water that is piped to storage tanks or bags. Purifiers can run about 20 hours a day if they run off the grid or there is someone to fuel them but they must shut down to change filters or perform routine maintenance. Having more than one purifier on site enables the maintenance to be staggered so at least one is always running.
After Hurricane Matthew barreled toward the Southeastern U.S. with winds reaching 160 mph in late-September 2016, Army National Guard units away from the danger zones were mobilized with their equipment. Although the storm left a path of destruction from the Caribbean to the Carolinas, Meinke said the level of support required was within their capability with assistance from the Coast Guard, so subject matter expertise from PAWS was not required. "There was nothing much for us to do but watch what happened. We've got to watch the cards fall, play the hand that gets dealt."
Once water has been pumped or purified, it must be stored so it can be moved off site or distributed to those who need it. Storage options include mobile tanks called Hippos and water buffalos, and collapsible fabric bags that can hold up to 50,000 gallons of water each. "Bag farms," a series of interconnected bags, can hold as much as 800,000 gallons of water, which is treated with chlorine and recirculated to keep it sanitized. "We'll use those to fill up hippos, camels, water buffalos and truck water out," Shalewitz explained.
Meinke said that PAWS is testing its own transportable bottling machine so potable water can be packaged on site, saving on shipping costs to fly or truck in pallets of bottled water often sent to disaster relief sites. Each machine can produce 900 2-liter bottles per hour. Units are expected to be fielded within the next two years, according to Shalewitz.
Whether water is bottled, bagged or stored in tanks, it always makes a good subject for songs. More than 70 musicians worldwide have recorded "Cry Me a River," not counting Justin Timberlake, who penned his own song with the same name. Although all those tears together might form Pink Floyd's "Endless River," there is no doubt it would be pumped out or purified quickly once the water dawgs gets their PAWS on it. And that would make people feel better again on the blue bayou.