Commentary: Cannon’s continued efforts for water conservation and sustainability
link U.S. Air Force graphic: Airman 1st Class Shelby Kay-Fantozzi
27th Special Operations Wing commander
The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence, and when it comes to Cannon’s side of the fence, it’s the preferred way. Over the past year, despite increasing Cannon’s industrial footprint by nearly 96,000 square feet and welcoming nearly 1,000 new Air Commandos, the amount of groundwater pumped from the stressed Ogallala Aquifer declined by almost 100 million gallons. Consumption decreased from 383 million gallons in 2012 to 288 million gallons in 2013 — the equivalent of 144 Olympic swimming pools!
A number of short-term factors have contributed to this success, including building more water-efficient facilities, constructing infrastructure specifically for reclaimed wastewater, identifying and fixing water leaks, metering infrastructure to monitor usage and identify potential pipe leaks and xeriscaping the base to mirror the landscape of eastern New Mexico.
Aside from ensuring our multi-million dollar Military Construction facilities (e.g., hangars, support facilities, squadron operations facilities) are built using the most water-efficient systems and components practicable, a recently completed wastewater storage basin is Cannon’s major water conservation accomplishment. This basin, capable of holding nine million gallons of treated wastewater, will save 55 to 60 million gallons of groundwater each year that was used to irrigate the golf course and driving range by storing an ample supply of safe water whenever needed. Previously, treated wastewater not used on these areas was either “wasted” to an on-base lake or only a fraction was used due to limited storage capacity and environmental regulatory constraints. Two additional projects, design complete and awaiting construction funding, will expand wastewater reuse: running a pipeline from the golf course to the existing irrigation system at the ball fields and dog park in the northwest corner of the main base, and constructing a fill stand adjacent to the nine million gallon basin to supply contractors with reclaimed wastewater for construction activities, such as dust control and soil compaction.
Just this past year, a base water leak survey was conducted to identify leaks within the potable water distribution system. As a result, 35 leaks were discovered and fixed. Cannon expects to save an additional 23 million gallons annually from this effort. In addition, high water consumption facilities were equipped with meters to monitor usage and signs of leakage.
One just needs to visit the Fitness Center to see Astroturf where grass once stood or look at the desert landscaping surrounding most dormitories, work centers and administrative facilities to see Cannon’s progress. Xeriscaping has replaced grass, thus significantly reducing the need for supplemental irrigation. In 2013, over 577,000 square feet — equivalent to 10 football fields — of desert landscaping replaced previously grassed areas. This unprecedented effort involved projects undertaken by the 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron and contractors. More desert landscaping is scheduled this year, with projected annual water savings of 61 million gallons. Our philosophy is simple: if our Airmen and their families play on it, we will irrigate it; if not, then we will work to xeriscape the location.
Water is a precious resource in New Mexico and Cannon has made water conservation a top priority. The less water removed from the taxed Ogallala Aquifer, the longer we as a base can thrive in this community. Obviously local governments and communities take water sustainability very seriously as well, and we support all efforts to protect this precious resource. Ensuring an adequate water supply is their lifeblood; without it, farmers, ranchers, industries and the communities themselves could not survive. As a mid-term measure to help ensure an adequate supply of water is available, local governments are exploring an initiative to procure “wet water” (as opposed to just water rights) from farmers, ranchers and dairies. This will help extend the longevity of the rapidly declining Ogallala Aquifer, as non-community water use can account for up to 95 percent of groundwater demand, and we at Cannon support this effort.
Local community members have become more educated on the dire water situation, largely due to dozens of articles in the local news in recent years involving the Ute Reservoir pipeline project. This $500 million project will provide potable water from Ute Lake in Quay County to Cannon and neighboring communities. Cannon fully supports this Department of the Interior project, as it is a viable long-term solution to the reality facing our communities: a water table dropping an average of two to three feet annually.
Water in the High Plains is a precious resource. Air Force Special Operations Command and Cannon AFB clearly recognize this and are committed to doing our part to protect this resource. Although conservation is an important aspect to extending this resource, it alone is not the mid- or long-term answer. Partnering with and supporting efforts of local governments and the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority is the solution to our common challenge. Air Commandos will continue this fight alongside our community partners.