TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Hawaii –
Potable water is essential to every community throughout the world - military communities are no exception.
While discolored tap water is usually within U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards and safe to drink, the odd color can sometimes raise eyebrows and concerns from local residents.
To help ease these concerns, the Army has taken an aggressive approach to combat discolored water issues and delve deeper into improving water quality for military communities.
“Residents at Fort Polk, Louisiana, were concerned with discolored water issues and voiced their concerns at community town halls,” explained Maj. Ran Du, Public Health Command-Pacific Environmental Health and Engineering chief.
At the request of Installation Management Command, experts from PHC-P were invited to Fort Polk to collaborate with the Directorate of Public Works by conducting a water quality investigation and to formulate strategies to improve water quality.
“Unknown to most residents, Fort Polk has a filter in place that removes approximately 90 percent of the contaminants causing discolored drinking water, but only for the north portion of the installation,” Du explained. “Unsurprisingly, many of the complaints were from the housing areas without water filtration.”
As a result, a team of Army water experts was formed to work diligently to characterize the drinking water at Fort Polk and other Army installations for much of the spring and summer.
“The Public Health Command-Pacific team, in conjunction with their engineer colleagues at Public Health Command-Central, formed an inter-regional team to tackle the water quality problem at Fort Polk in April,” Du continued. “The team discovered that the source water routinely contained elevated concentrations of iron and manganese that exceed the EPA secondary maximum contaminant levels. Although secondary maximum contaminant levels are non-enforceable guidelines, the aesthetic effect of the ‘brown water’ often evokes negative responses from the water consumers.”
To address those concerns, the team specifically focused on elements that would cause the water to be discolored. Nearly a hundred water samples were taken and analyzed to determine the best strategies to improve the Fort Polk water quality.
“With support from Fort Polk senior leadership, Fort Polk Directorate of Public Works, and American Water; Public Health Command-Pacific experts were able to make recommendations to help IMCOM senior leaders determine what capital improvements were needed for the Fort Polk water treatment systems,” said Michael Brown, PHC-P senior environmental engineer.
“Approximately $12.8 million was allocated for capital improvements to include the necessary updates to add Greensand Filters to the south Fort Polk housing area water treatment plant,” said Du. “In addition, Mr. Brown and Capt. Bateman developed a water quality investigation protocol to standardize and characterize water discoloration for other Public Health commands across the Army.”
Shortly after the Fort Polk mission, IMCOM approached PHC-P for more assistance to develop a standardized protocol and assist additional installations with drinking water discoloration complaints.
“At this time, the Public Health Command-Pacific team has completed the water quality investigation for Fort Polk,” said Du. “Ongoing investigations are being conducted at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, West Point, Fort Detrick and Fort Wainwright.”
The PHC-P team will continue to provide consultation to IMCOM for discolored water complaints in fiscal year 2020 and beyond.
“We are excited to be making a difference in quality of life for military communities,” said Du. “For us, it is not just about the mission to improve water quality, but to help service members and their Families feel heard and cared for.”