By Ronald A. Reeves
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 17, 2009 - Sewer projects and other capacity-building projects managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division are positively affecting the environment in Iraq, said the commander of the corps' Gulf Region Central District here. For example, solar-powered street lights installed in Fallujah use the sun's renewable energy, balancing the needs of the environment and communities by providing power, conserving natural resources for other uses, and improving air quality through reduced air emissions, Army Col. Ronald N. Light explained.
Environmental conservation was not practiced during Saddam Hussein's regime, Light said, but he's seen progress during his yearlong command.
He has visited more than 200 project sites throughout Baghdad and Anbar provinces -- trips that provided him with insight about the Iraqi situation, he said.
"Many Iraqis with whom I've interfaced have indicated that they were in survival mode," he said. "When all you're worried about is feeding your family and whether they have a roof over their head, it's hard to get excited about other issues.
"As the Iraqi security situation improves and they're able to focus on those kinds of things, I fully expect that they will embrace a greater environmental ethic as time goes on," he continued. "No one wants to live in an environment that is strewn with trash, an environment where children walk in open sewer drainage ditches, or an environment where you have to question the purity of your water or air."
To that end, projects built in partnership with the Iraqi government, the U.S. government and Gulf Region Division are providing essential services that many Americans take for granted, such as clean water and sewage removal.
An example of this is the Sadr City water treatment plant, now providing 200,000 Sadr City residents with clean, potable water. The three-year, $65-million endeavor supplies water to 27 sectors in Sadr City. The facility provides water at a rate of 4,000 cubic meters per hour.
Also completed is the restoration of the Khark water treatment plant north of Taji, Light said.
"That treatment plant contributes 43 percent of the potable water to Baghdad," he said.
Three neighborhoods, or "mahallas," in southern Baghdad have received about 41 miles of water mains, ranging from 4- to 12-inch pipe. Army Maj. Robert Nash, who served with the corps when the project was under way, said Doura residents appreciated the corps' efforts.
"There has likewise been a dearth of potable water supply networks in both Baghdad and elsewhere," Light said. "The problem has been particularly acute in Baghdad; we've addressed that, and helped double the number of people on potable water systems throughout Iraq."
Gulf Region Division sewer projects include a $30 million sewer project in Kamaliya where about 36 miles of sewer pipe and 10 pump stations were installed.
In partnership with the Iraqi government, the division is completing other sewer-improvement projects throughout Central District in Doura, Adhamiyah, Mansour, New Ubaydi and Fallujah.
Begun in 2004 and about 80 percent complete, the Fallujah wastewater treatment plant's revised design provides for treatment of 40,000 cubic meters per day, projected to serve 200,000 residents. The project will discharge disinfected water into the Euphrates River where residents downstream take their drinking water. The design allows for future expansion as the Iraqi government grows its infrastructure.
"That is a huge, huge undertaking given the age of the cities in Iraq," Light said. "We've gone into Baghdad and Fallujah and retrofitted, in very tight quarters, those cities with sewer systems. So, that's been a great win."
An often-overlooked component, Light said, is waste management. He said the division's contributions to that are landfills, both on forward operating bases and in Baghdad. In Rusafa, northeast of Baghdad, the division will build a sanitary landfill.
"This isn't a sanitary landfill you'd see in the temperate regions of the U.S.," Light said. "It is designed for this very arid climate. We've also built incinerators to more effectively deal with solid waste, medical waste, biological waste and routine waste."
Light said the Army Corps of Engineers and the Iraqi government are committed to improving conditions throughout Iraq.
"In everything we've done, whether it's a road project, school project, or police station, there's been some environmental component somehow," Light said. "As we close out forward operating bases, post camps, and stations we've established, we will certainly leave them as clean as or cleaner than when we arrived."
As Iraq continues to grow as a secure and stable nation, the Gulf Region Division has completed hundreds of projects in the public works and water sector. Since 2004, the division has completed 564 water and sewage projects throughout Iraq, and has 36 ongoing. Division water and sewage projects directly benefit more than 5 million people.
(Ronald A. Reeves works for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Central.)