Net Zero and Ft. Riley
As you might have heard, Ft. Riley has been chosen as only 1 of 6 installations in the U.S. to participate in a project to try and become a Net Zero Water Installation. That's all well and good, right? What is "Net Zero" and why is it of any importance?
Simply put, the term "Net Zero Water Installation" means that the installation conserves and only uses water to the point that it is possible to return water removed from the watershed back into that same watershed so that the water in that region is not depleted over the course of a year. Another way to look at it is that the installation puts the same amount of water back into the watershed as what originally came into the watershed. This is accomplished by conserving the water it uses, reusing some of the water it obtains, finding ways to capture water that normally just runs off during rain events and various other means. However, this is an incredibly oversimplified statement for an incredibly difficult project. It will take years to accomplish, and can only be accomplished through the support of everyone on the installation. Period.
So why do it?
Well, for one thing, there was an Executive Order created that requires all federal agencies to reduce their water consumption by 2% annually. While this certainly plays a part in why Ft. Riley is participating in a "Net Zero Water" project, it is not the sole reason for becoming a "Net Zero Water" installation.
Environmentally speaking, it is the right thing to do. There is no disputing that conserving water is a responsible thing to do. Fresh water, for all practical purposes in Kansas, cannot be created. What we have is all that we have and if it disappears, we are in serious trouble. Kansas' economy is dependent on our own water supplies. Farmers irrigate their crops with it. rancher's livestock depend on it, municipalities rely on it for so many reasons that I can't begin to list them all. Ft. Riley, in essence, is like a small city and a large consumer of water. By becoming net zero water, Ft. Riley will serve as an example to other municipalities what can be done to be good stewards of the land.
So how will it be accomplished?
Ft. Riley is in the very beginnings of trying to become net zero water. That is not to say that steps have not already been taken. For instance, large scale building projects have incorporated the use of bioretension ponds to capture storm water runoff. Simply put, bioretension ponds are areas in, or around, developed projects left as grassy areas that will capture the water that runs off parking lots, building roofs, etc. Once the water is captured, it slowly sinks back into the ground and becomes groundwater rather than just whooshing off into the gutters and taken directly to a river or treatment plant. Contaminants in the water are also removed through natural filtration. The water reaching the groundwater tables are in essence clean.
Another project that conserves a tremendous amount of water is the way tactical vehicles are washed. The fort uses a system that catches the rinse water from the washing area and allows it to filter through a series of ponds. In the process, contaminants are removed and by the time the water reaches the final pond, the water is relatively clean. That water is then pumped up to the washing area and is reused to wash vehicles. While this system is not completely self-sufficient, it saves hundreds of thousands of gallons of water each year.
Lo-flow, highly efficient water saving fixtures are also being utilized. These fixtures include such things as showerheads, toilets and water faucets that use far less water than older style fixtures.
While there are several other accomplishments that have already been implemented to conserve water and promote being better stewards of the land, the real water-saving effort will be the personal decisions of the individuals that live and work on post. The largest use of water on Ft. Riley is human consumption during daily activities. This includes activities such as doing laundry, watering the yard, brushing your teeth, taking showers, washing your hands and the like. Becoming net zero will take the cooperaiton of everybody on post. Only through a combined effort of deliberate actions taken by the people who live and work on post, along with the construction projects and repairs of the infrastructure will a net zero water installation be obtained.
The Garrison Commander strongly supports the idea of Fort Riley becoming a Net Zero Water Installation. In order to help change this challenge into a reality, Fort Riley has created a Net Zero Water Team. Among other things, the team will be responsible for creating public awareness for conserving water, suggesting ideas on how to incorporate water saving practices into future building plans and providing ideas on ways to conserve or reuse water in existing infrastructures. As stated earlier, becoming a Net Zero Water Installation is a substantial challenge that will take a tremendous amount of planning and cooperation to obtain. Without a doubt, it is a challenge that needs to be taken on because it is the environmentally correct thing to do.