Camp Lemonnier Undergoes First ROWPU Filter Upgrade

By Lt. Desiree V. Woodman, Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

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CM1 Joe Gugala, Public Works Department, explains how the Human-Machine Interface monitors and controls the Reverse Osmosis Water Purifying Unit plant, Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Jan. 28. (Photo by MC1  Drae Parker/151228-N-MH374-009e)

Most Americans don’t think twice about turning the faucet on for a cold drink of water. In the Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonnier, water is always on the mind of the 4,000 U.S. service members forward deployed to Djibouti. With the recent upgrade of the camp’s Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU), the camp is now producing more fresh water to take care of the daily needs of personnel.

The ROWPU system allows Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ) to produce its own water from an aquifer that rests underneath the camp. There are three wells that can pump 800,000 gallons of raw water each day from the aquifer. The water from the three wells is pumped into one of four reverse osmosis (RO) units, each capable of producing 100,000 gallons of drinking water per day. This raw water is fed from the wells to the plant and passes through a complicated system of multimedia and granular activated carbon tanks, which capture impurities up to 10 microns in size, and then through smaller cartridge filters that capture impurities up to five microns in size.

This complex system of pre­filters removes a variety of impurities before the high pressure pumps push the water through membranes to achieve RO. Each RO unit contains seven vessels containing four membranes each; a pressure of 300 PSI is required to push the water through. In the past, the ROWPU was using brine membranes, which cleaned the water to the point that 45 percent was safe for drinking. In order to produce more drinking water, the camp changed to salt water filters which has increased productivity, efficiency and total output.

“We will be able to produce more product water while taking less water out of the ground,” said Construction Mechanic 1st Class Joe Gugala, assigned to CLDJ’s Public Works Department. “These new membranes will allow us to increase our efficiency from 45 percent to 60 percent, meaning we will be able to produce at a 60 to 40 split, with 60 being potable and 40 being reject water.”

Camp Lemonnier’s proximity to the ocean causes salt water to impose on the aquifer. The new membranes are now salt water membranes and will increase the amount of fresh water produced for use throughout the base, creating less stress on the aquifer.

“We upgraded one RO membrane every other day,” Gugala said. “Four units in four days, with approximately four to six hours of work each day.

“With the increase in production and the quantity of water being consumed,” he continued, “if one unit were to go down for any reason, the remaining three units will be able to produce the quantity of water required to sustain the camp. It’s a redundant system.”

Additionally, the well pumps were upgraded from a 25 ­hp pump to a 50 ­hp pump. This change has created less stress on the wells, making it easier to pump water through while creating less running time for the plant. Furthermore, the upgrade from cast iron to stainless steel pumps makes it very unlikely that the pumps will need to be changed anytime soon. Bottom line, stainless steel pumps are going to last longer.

“It only take a day or two to realize the improvement in production,” Gugala said. “The system is monitored on a daily basis so we have been able to see the true savings of this procedure.”

So far, the preliminary data received has shown a drastic improvement in not only the quantity, but also quality of the water as well. Sanitary surveys are performed every three years to identify changes for the betterment of the water plant and the distribution system for the camp. There is a redundant system in place to check on the quality and safety of the water that includes the camp’s environmental unit and preventive medicine unit. The water plant also has its own fully functional laboratory and staff which perform hourly testing while the plant is in operation. The lab staff also pulls 20 random water samples per day around the camp to ensure the water quality meets the highest standards required by America Water Works Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. Twenty bacteriological tests are also performed each week. For service members stationed in Djibouti, where the summertime temperature hovers over 100 degrees every day, they can rest assured that when they need a cool drink, the water from their taps is both safe and refreshing.

Camp Lemonnier provides, operates and sustains superior service in support of combat readiness along with security of ships and aircraft detachments and personnel for regional and combat command requirements, enabling operations for the Horn of Africa while fostering positive U.S./­African Nation relations.

Camp Lemonnier is a U.S. Navy-led installation operated by Commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia via U.S. Naval Forces Africa and Commander, Navy Installation Command. The camp supports approximately 4,300 U.S, joint and allied forces, both military and civilian personnel, and U.S. Department of Defense contractors. Additionally, the base provides employment for approximately 1,500 local nationals and a large number of third country national workers.


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