SAWS to Provide Military Bases with Backup Water Supply

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The 25th Airforce extends a welcome to India's Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha and his wife, Lily Raha. Lackland AFB was one of several stops they made during their visit to the United States. Photo by William Belcher/ Sharon Singleton.

The 25th Airforce extends a welcome to India's Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha and his wife, Lily Raha. Lackland AFB was one of several stops they made during their visit to the United States. Photo by William Belcher/ Sharon Singleton.

If and when the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) looks at U.S. Military bases to see which are candidates for closure, the host of bases in San Antonio want to make sure there aren't any asterisks next to their names. For years, a critical issue for local bases has been water security but an agreement announced Tuesday with the City's water utility aims to remove that particular asterisk.

"Whenever there is another round of base closing, water will not be an issue,” San Antonio Water System (SAWS) President and CEO Robert Puente said.

Puente was joined by Mayor Ivy Taylor and Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) at City Hall on Tuesday morning to announce SAWS' plans to roll out more than 20,000 feet – nearly four miles – of pipeline to facilities at Camp Bullis, Ft. Sam Houston, and Lackland Air Force Base to provide a backup water supply. Infrastructure costs of connecting the bases to SAWS' system will cost the City $11 million out of SAWS' budget over the next several years. Officials will be seeking money from a Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant to defray up to 50% of the costs.

These bases currently maintain and operate their own water systems, relying on the aquifers below them for their water supply. Most urgent is the water supply case for Camp Bullis, which relies on its own wells drilled into the Trinity Aquifer, known for its increased susceptibility to drought.

SAWS draws water from seven different sources in addition to an expansive recycling program while military bases are limited to a single aquifer. That's why military bases follow more strict drought restrictions, typically at Stage 3 while SAWS remains at Stage 1.

In case of emergency and to promote expansion of military presence, diversification of supply was needed.

"This level of cooperation is what the federal government can expect from Military City USA," Krier stated in a news release. He is credited with leading the effort at the mayor's direction. "The SAWS agreement with Joint Base-San Antonio makes our city a more attractive location when the Defense Department decides to relocate or expand military missions, which would mean more jobs for our region. I'm proud that we're able to accomplish this ground-breaking deal."

The bases are collectively known as Joint Base San Antonio, which includes Randolph Air Force Base. A separate agreement will be made for Randolph AFB as its closer to the City of Shertz, Puente said.

SAWS estimates that almost 4,600 acre feet per year will be used by the bases once the infrastructure is implemented. However, included in the agreement is $7.5 million for the 25th Air Force on Lackland AFB's "Security Hill," which houses cybersecurity, intelligence, and space command efforts. Because of security concerns, it's unknown how many acre feet will eventually be used by these facilities.

The military contributes more than $27 billion every year to the local economy, according to a 2012 study by the City’s Economic Development Department, 68% of which comes from Joint Base San Antonio. More than 130,000 local jobs are directly supported by the military, another 57,000 indirectly. The Department of Defense awarded about $4 billion in local contracts in 2011.

 

*Top image: A meeting room for the 25th Air Force in Lackland Air Force Base. Photo by William Belcher/ Sharon Singleton.

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