By Douglas Tucker 

Planners and engineers with the U.S. Air Force need to protect and sustain access to water in order to support current and future requirements. Key to this effort is understanding the interconnectedness of long-term water availability and mission assurance.

To successfully drive this connection, the Air Force is expanding the scope of information that installations use for planning, engineers use for project development, and leadership uses to prioritize projects.

Air Force-wide implementation of the WNAT could result in a comprehensive database of water needs. U.S. Air Force Photo


With a focus on improving water resilience, the Air Force is employing the installation energy planning process to increase visibility into waterrelated risks, and using the Water Needs Assessment Tool (WNAT) to provide a more granular understanding of a function’s reliance on water.

Installation Energy Plans. As a key annex of Installation Development Plans, the Air Force is developing Installation Energy Plans (IEPs) to identify strategies to improve energy and water resilience. The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety & Infrastructure has been working at seven pilot installations to develop a standardized framework, which will be implemented across the enterprise.


Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, consists of more than 4,800 military and civilian personnel, and over 5,000 family members. The sole water source for the base is an aquifer that is declining at 2-ft/ year because pumping far outpaces the rate of recharge. Water quality is also a concern, with nitrates and other pollutants causing some wells to be shut down as a precaution.

Regional solutions are needed to address this concern because the base represents only 4 percent of total water demand on the aquifer, whereas agriculture represents about 90 percent. This challenge is urgent: A recent study estimated that Mountain Home would only be able to sustain current pumping rates for 12 to 33 years. Air Force leadership and the base are working with state and local officials to identify possible water supply solutions. The path forward will likely involve diversifying regional water sources.

The IEP process identifies water and energy requirements for each installation’s critical missions, analyzes potential vulnerabilities, and develops strategies to make enabling systems more resilient. This process will synthesize currently disparate elements of energy and water information to better assess the status of water systems and communicate the potential impacts on mission and readiness.

Water Needs Assessment Tool. The Office of the Secretary of Defense developed the WNAT to function as a low-cost, accessible option to estimate water needs and to enable installations to ensure sufficient water is available for mission and missionsupport activities. The WNAT uses real property data and water use intensity benchmarks to estimate water needs by function and facility type.

Functions can range from airfield pavements or maintenance buildings to hospitals or fire suppression. This information is particularly helpful for installations without water sub-meters, a capability that many lack. This more detailed understanding of water needs can help inform the creation of water prioritization plans, defend water rights, and plan for projected increases or decreases in mission. Importantly, it can help link water assurance to mission assurance by identifying the water requirements for specific functions.

A pilot program was designed to validate and adapt the tool for Air Force use and to enhance the user experience. A total of 14 installations participated in the program (seven active, six Air National Guard, and one Air Force Reserve base).

The most significant upgrade to the WNAT was automation of the data entry process, which reduced the level of effort and mitigated the burden of data collection on the field. Positive user feedback indicated the tool was helpful in understanding installation water needs, and that results would be useful for water resource planning.

Air Force-wide implementation of the WNAT could result in a comprehensive database of water needs, broken down by major command, installation, function, or region. Completing the tool will help shift from primarily thinking about total water consumption toward a more granular understanding of the importance of water assurance for mission assurance.

Douglas Tucker is Energy Program Director, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety & Infrastructure;

[This article first published in the July-August 2019 issue of The Military Engineer]