By Ms. Brigitte Rox (AMC)June 13, 2017
"Do Not Use the Water," reporters echoed on every news station in South Texas, Wednesday night on Dec. 14, 2016.
City officials in Corpus Christi issued the advisory throughout Nueces County when a backflow incident contaminated the city's water supply with Indulin AA-86, a dangerous emulsifier capable of burning human skin, if concentrated.
This was the third time the city was hit with a water notice in 2016. But, unlike the notices issued earlier in the year, December's water crisis was nothing a water boil could fix. All city water was banned until further notice: "boiling, freezing, filtering, adding chlorine or other disinfectants, or letting the water stand will not make the water safe."
The city practically shut down overnight as businesses, schools, and restaurants, all without water, were forced to close. Residents scrambled for bottled water as shipments trickled in to grocery stores and gas stations over the next four days of the ban.
Corpus Christi Army Depot commander, Col. Allan H. Lanceta, knew something like this should never happen again, so he called for a water contingency plan.
Problem-solvers at the helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, including Maj. David Florez, a reservist and program analyst at the depot, got straight to work pursuing an alternate water source in the event of another emergency. When the initial December water crisis abated nearly four days later, CCAD continued pursuing a contingency plan just in case.
Florez reached out to the 288th Quartermaster Company, a nearby U.S. Army Reserve company co-located in Victoria and Corpus Christi.
"Our primary mission service is water purification so, in light of the recent water boil issues, we got onboard with the folks here at CCAD," said Capt. J. Matthew Everett, 288th Quartermaster Company.
"Their brigade commander said he was able to provide a water purification system and soldiers to purify water and execute the mission," said Florez. "This would definitely produce plenty of water for the depot and for the base to continue operations."
Now the two are working together to establish a back-up plan for the next time disaster strikes.
The 288th held their first water purification exercise at CCAD from May 5-7. "This is to validate that we're able to do this and it will be functional," Florez said. "If this works, then we will discuss following actions to pursue permits to make the capability a reality."
"That's why we're out here," Everett said. "In the event that it actually happens again, we will be able to get on the ground, set up and get the water out to the surrounding areas pretty quickly."
"This is our first time in a long time using the Tactical Water Purification System," Everett said. The TWPS equipment produces about 400 gallons per hour. Soldiers can pull water from any source, be it fresh or saltwater. The water goes through a filtered tube before reaching a 1,500-gallon water container on land where clean water can be collected for use.
The unit can also desalinate water, which is good news for a depot that sits along the salty coastal waters of the Corpus Christi Bay.
"We're in the works to be able to pull the water from the bay," said Florez. "So we've already started the first stages of that and we're going to push it forward through our command and [Naval Air Station Corpus Christi] and see how far we can get."
"It takes some time," echoed Everett. "In the future, what we're actually hoping to do is break ground for other water units. Not only do you have us, you have other units that specialize in mass transfer of purified water that are like life support for a pretty sizeable element for a large block of time."
The unit spent their weekend at CCAD pulling water from a nearby pond where they set up the TWPS and their transportation assets.
"It's been a good positive training event for the soldiers to get out here," said Florez.
"They can take swamp water, some of the grossest stuff, and purify it to higher purification to the standard bottle of water than you can get at a store."
Everett concurred. "Not trying to brag or anything, but we've done tests and the water we produce is actually a lot better than most of the bottled waters that are out on the market today. It's more than drinkable. It's more than usable. I've got an entire company of people that know what they're doing, that are really passionate about what they're doing, and they're very knowledgeable within the entire field and with all the equipment that we have."
Everett used the water purification training exercise as an opportunity to familiarize his unit with their new TWPS equipment.
"That was my intent for this entire weekend," he said. "To get our hands on some new stuff, get our hands on stuff that we don't usually get to touch so that, when Zero Hour does show up, it's not the first time that they've touched it."
"In case something happens in an emergency situation like a hurricane or a water situation, we've asked you all to come here," Lanceta said when he visited the unit over the weekend.
"I think it's a great thing for CCAD. It's certainly a great thing for you guys to exercise your skill set. I really appreciate you all coming here to do that."
The sun was setting on Saturday when the unit began taking apart the TWPS equipment. A soldier attempting to retrieve the TWPS feeder hose from its source disrupted his unit's tempo when he slipped on the flattened foliage and fell with a splash in the pond. Some in his unit laughed at his clumsiness, though each soldier was every bit as damp as him. They were all ankle-deep in puddles, hoisting drippy hoses over their heads to the soldier in front of them, each working as a team to break camp and pack up.
Everett talked about the possibilities of engaging more units to train at CCAD and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, where CCAD is based. He said opportunities like this don't come around often along the Texas Gulf Coast.
"There's really no excuse not to, so close to the coastal environment," Everett said. "Other units are like us, they don't really get a chance to break out their equipment.
"My unit is particular, we get a lot of new soldiers. We get guys coming out of school and they're excited and fresh, and I got very seasoned senior leadership out here sharing with their younger counterparts, showing them a thing or two and some things they may not have picked up in school. It helps keep that enthusiasm in the younger folks.
"I couldn't ask for a better group of guys," he said.
From slips into ponds, to sunburns and securing permits, the 288th Quartermaster Detachment is doing everything they can to deliver fresh clean water to the Army and community.
When the water purification process is validated, the capability will sustain military operations at the Army's organic industrial base and set the standard for delivering humanitarian aid to the South Texas community.