UNCHARTED WATERS: SOLAR POWERED RAINWATER HARVESTING COMES TO FORT BUCHANAN

Story by Francisco Mendez and Anibal Negron, Fort Buchanan Directorate of Public Works

In 2011, the Department of the Army created the Net Zero Initiative and selected Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico as one of the Net Zero Water pilot Installations. The Net Zero Water Strategy balances water availability and use to preserve a sustainable water supply for years to come. Since the Army designated Fort Buchanan to pursue Net Zero Water, the Installation has implemented many projects to reduce water consumption – from high efficiency water devices to well water irrigation systems and from rainwater harvesting systems to potable water distribution system renovations. With these initiatives, Fort Buchanan is striving to reduce its water consumption by 26 percent by 2020.

To reach that goal, the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) proposed, through an Installation Technology Transfer Program (ITTP) project, the construction of the first Net Zero potable rainwater harvesting system with a solar powered pump for Fort Buchanan. The project will demonstrate the technical feasibility and cost benefit of producing potable water from harvested rainwater at an Army Reserve location.

The Fort Buchanan Directorate of Public Works and CERL selected the Installation’s Welcome Center as the project demonstration site. The Welcome Center houses many regular employees and also receives many daily customers among Soldiers, Civilians, Contractors and Families.

The annual potable water demand of the facility is estimated to be 55,000 gallons, which can be collected by harvesting rainwater from sections of its roof.

The fully automated filtration and quality sensing systems provide constant monitoring capabilities of the system’s performance for collected and produced potable water. Its solar powered pumps ensure that the production of potable rainwater does not increase the energy demands of the site. Altogether safe and self-sufficient, the system will aid Fort Buchanan in achieving the Net Zero Water goal by increasing its renewable resource harvesting.

This approach also supports the Army’s Net Zero Installations Policy, encouraging Installations to offset freshwater resources with alternative water sources to enhance water security. Similarly, the Army continues to seek opportunities to reuse or recycle water to increase the beneficial use of each gallon of water. Harvesting rainwater onsite can help to offset the supply of purchased water and increase Fort Buchanan’s water security.

“The solar powered potable rainwater harvesting system is poised to be a best management practice for mission critical buildings,” said Anibal Negron, Chief of the Environmental Division of Fort Buchanan’s Directorate of Public Works. “These systems can provide utility services for buildings during emergency situations, at times when providing potable-quality water to buildings in support of operations can be a challenge.”

Pending the approval of the Command Group, Fort Buchanan will consider similar rainwater harvesting systems for the Installation at other designated buildings on post.

Fort Buchanan actively supports crisis management agencies – such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the United States Army Corps of Engineers – that establish their Operations Centers on the island in the wake of disasters. After Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands in the fall of 2017, Installation vulnerabilities were assessed. One of these vulnerabilities was the water supply. How does Fort Buchanan acquire resources, and how safe are the resources? In either case, the Net Zero potable rainwater harvesting system with its solar powered pump should prove to be a reliable and sustainable energy and water security alternative that will support our future missions and enhance our resiliency.