FORT IRWIN, Calif. — The U.S. Department of Energy recognized Fort Irwin’s water conservation program as one of the top in the federal government Nov. 2 by presenting installation representatives with a Federal Energy and Water Management award.
The award highlights federal organizations and agencies for “outstanding contributions” to energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy. Fort Irwin was one of eight government organizations to receive the commendation for its entire program. The installation’s water conservation team – including Muhammad Bari, director of Public Works; Sandra Key, chief, Housing Division and RCI project manager; Col. Scott Taylor, former garrison commander; and Christopher Woodruff, project manager for the Directorate of Public Works – also earned the Secretary of the Army’s Energy and Water Management award in August.
“It’s a team effort for everybody. Conservation is everybody’s job,” said Bari. “It’s a commanders’ emphasis, soldiers’ effort, and all civilians. They’re all participating in this major conservation effort.”
Over the past 12 years, Fort Irwin reduced its annual water usage by approximately 40 percent, a savings of more than 400 million gallons. The installation cut water usage by 67.7 million gallons between Fiscal Year 2015 and Fiscal Year 2016 alone. Because Fort Irwin relies on an underground aquifer that is recharged by just 4 inches of rain per year, these achievements are critical to sustain the mission capability of the National Training Center, Bari said.
“We are a desert community. Water is a commodity here,” he said. “If we don’t conserve, we will not be able to continue the training here. So it is mission essential for us to do water conservation.”
“Our goal is to maximize conservation and have water available for the National Training Center to train here for the foreseeable future,” he added.
Fort Irwin’s approach to water conservation is multifaceted. The installation has aggressively sought to curb demand from domestic uses by installing low-flow toilets, showerheads and other fixtures throughout housing and work areas. It was also the first to implement a mock billing program in 2015 to encourage household conservation and to identify and fix leaks. The billing program went live this October.
The conservation program has also focused on expanding recycled water systems. For example, water managers updated the motor pool wash racks to recycle water in a closed loop. The racks are used to clean hundreds of military vehicles during the monthly training rotations at NTC, and the new system saves about 3 million gallons of water each rotation.
In addition, many of Fort Irwin’s grass lawns have been removed and replaced with rock and water-efficient landscaping. The green spaces that do remain are designed to be multi-use areas – for example, providing space for physical training as well as aesthetic value – and they use recycled water for irrigation.
On the supply side, Fort Irwin recently completed a new water treatment plant that is vastly more efficient than the old plant. Before, approximately half of the water was lost during the treatment process. Now, the plant is more than 99 percent efficient, meaning that it loses virtually no water.
All of these efforts are the result of teamwork and a long-term commitment by the Fort Irwin Garrison, according to the water conservation team, and they continue to work toward reducing water usage even further.
“We’re still going down, we’re still lowering our usage, and we’ve still got new projects,” said Woodruff. “Now they’re not getting cheaper, but we still have savings to be had on Fort Irwin.”
By earning recognition for water conservation at the highest levels and demonstrating a proven track record, Fort Irwin is also well positioned to receive funding for additional projects, Bari added. But the team stressed that they cannot achieve their goals without the continued support of the community.
“It’s their efforts that helped get us this award,” said Key.