May 2003: Volume 45, Number 5
ROWPUs--A Part of the Battlefield that CNN Doesn’t Show
by Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor
You can’t escape it. When you turn the TV on, it’s there. Open a newspaper and you’ll see it. Turn on the radio and it will be updated. It’s also discussed at school, the home, work and almost any other place where people gather. “It” just happens to be the war in Iraq. And now here it’s mentioned in this magazine, although most military action may have ended by the time you read this.
But let’s look at the war from an angle that perhaps you haven’t considered. Of course, if you’re an avid reader of this publication and possess an above average memory, you’ll recognize the fact that we ran an article about this topic in our May 2001 issue. The subject is ROWPUs, or reverse osmosis water purification units. We’ve selected three sites here as a re-introduction to the topic.
The first part of the above address serves as the home page to Aqua-Chem Inc., of Milwaukee. In this case, the company’s water technologies division oversees ROWPU production. According to Aqua-Chem, it supplies the U.S. Army with two RO systems—a “highly mobile” 3,000 gallon per hour (gph) ROWPU and a 1,500 gph TWPS (tactical water purification system).
The company’s water purification units—which it claims have been available since World War II—were used in Operation Desert Storm/Persian Gulf War, provided clean water during a cholera epidemic in Rwanda, and aided flood victims in North Dakota.
Other nuggets of information culled from this site can be found among a rather extensive selection of main buttons to the left of the page. Under the “Military & Government” button, the text doesn’t shine much light on the unit or some of its nuances. Furthermore, the buttons underneath (Flash Evaporators, Pumps, Reverse Osmosis, and Heat Exchangers) aren’t very relevant and, in fact, sound repetitive at times.
As another company website, Sparta, Tenn.-based Watec Inc. is “widely recognized in the military and government sectors as the ‘go to’ company for mobile water purification training, maintenance, environmental and repair parts services.” It looks like we have come across a gem here.
Naturally, the site touts the company’s contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and its training programs with the Army and the Marine Corps. The company refers to it as the only training available for coastal water purification operations; collective task training on all aspects of water purification, storage, and distribution, and advanced military water purification system maintenance. What exactly does this mean? For one thing, the company offers ROWPU maintenance classes to other organizations (military and otherwise) for maintenance support personnel at all support levels.
The first thing that strikes me here is the T-plus and T-minus countdowns on a picture of Saddam Hussein (with a target superimposed over his face) and North Korean nuclear weapons, respectively. No, Toto, we are no longer in company website land.
Unfamiliar with the organization, I seek more information about Global Security. Apparently, it’s focused on various approaches to security challenges on a worldwide scale. The organization also seeks to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons. And what does this have to do with water treatment in the battlefield? Plenty, as it turns out.
When scanning the home page, the urge for many visitors will be to directly click on the “Military” main button at the top left corner. Save yourself some trouble and scroll down to the search button and type in “rowpu.” If you do, you’re likely to come across 13 documents that relate to the water treatment device.
I click on the first item listed and am presented with a very thorough discussion of ROWPUs, which is very educational and not so self-promotional. For instance, I learn that sometimes ROWPUs have to be shut down during their 20-hour operating cycle to have filters cleaned or changed to keep the units operating efficiently. One factor imperative to the ROWPU’s performance is the actual location of the unit in relation to the source of water. It must be placed as close as possible to the water, no further than 75 feet away.
Little did we know that a few months after the May 2001 article was published that the tragedy of 9-11 and the subsequent situation in Iraq would dominate our thoughts. So, the next time you see, hear or read about the war’s updates, you may think about how the Coalition troops stayed replenished in the middle of the desert. It’s made possible in part with advances in the water treatment industry.
Ranking the ROWPU sites
Private First Class: Yes, there is a schematic as well as a brief interlude on reverse osmosis and how it works. But that’s about the extent of what this site offers in water. The equipment has been used in previous military operations. Why not explore the results and performance of those case studies? Instead, we get a consolation prize of catalog specs and text duplication.
Drill Sergeant: This site goes further into the contracts the company has obtained from the U.S. government. Still, it’s a commercial site at its core. It’s an upgrade from Aqua-Chem’s in that there’s more of an explanation on what services are provided to potential clients looking to use ROWPUs for commercial or military uses.
Three Stars: Clearly the general of the group listed here. If you can look beyond the subversive political slants of the site, then you can at least appreciate the way it presents ROWPUs and their inner-workings. Also keep in mind that, due to space constraints, we only looked at the first entry under a “rowpu” search.
EXTRA: ROWPU on film
For those of you who haven’t seen it, check out Paulie Shore’s 1994 classic, “In the Army Now.” It puts Adam Sandler’s “The Water Boy” to shame, according to someone on staff who has seen both flicks. Find them at Blockbuster's or Hollywood Video today!