The Oregon Army National Guard has taken the water supply at its Camp Rilea training site off the grid.

With a new water recycling facility and basins that return treated water to an underground aquifer, the Warrenton facility is working its way toward net zero water. The idea is to continually recycle the water used on site to preserve local water resources.

“It reduces our demand on the freshwater aquifer,” said Jim Arnold, an environmental restorations manager with the Oregon Army National Guard. “If we take 5 gallons out and recycle 4 gallons, we’re only having to continually pull one gallon out. We’re pulling water out of the aquifer, but we recharge that same aquifer we took it out from.”

To move closer toward net-zero water – recycling all of the water it uses – Camp Rilea is also working on water efficiency and conservation plans.

A water balance study showed 59 percent of the water use on the base comes from domestic plumbing – showers, sinks and toilets. The kitchen uses 18 percent of the total, irrigation uses 10 percent, vehicle washing consumes 3.6 percent and laundry takes 3.4 percent.

The site will reuse its own treated wastewater for irrigation, laundry and vehicle washing. Water pulled from the aquifer can go to an on-site treatment plant to bring it up to drinking water quality.

“At Camp Rilea we can operate off the grid,” Arnold said. “The new system allowed us to sever our tie to the municipal supply. Instead, we have a water supply system that draws water from the aquifer that we sit on through water withdrawal wells, treats it to drinking water standards and distributes it through our channels.”

Arnold said even before the net-zero initiative, the water used at Camp Rilea didn’t even make a dent in the local aquifer. But the pilot project will help demonstrate techniques that other military sites can use to reduce their water footprints.

The project is part of a much broader initiative at 19 Army sites across the country that targets net zero energy, water and waste.

The Oregon Army National Guard volunteered to try for net zero energy at all 40 of its installations across the state. Numerous solar projects and possible wind, wave and biomass energy projects are in the works to achieve that goal.

The military has been treating its own water and reusing it for irrigation at Camp Rilea since 1978. The net-zero water program enhanced that process by adding a water recycling plant and “rapid infiltration basins” that send more treated water back to the aquifer, 200 feet underground.

“It’s a closed-loop process,” said Arnold. “Whatever we take out we put back into the aquifer. We added a recycled water plant to treat that water to the point where it’s usable for other purposes on the post. We can use it for anything except drinking and filling a pool.”

John DeVoe of Oregon Water Watch said to be truly net zero, the military will have to put more water back into the aquifer than they take out to account for evaporation and consumption of the water used on the site.

Arnold said the new rapid infiltration basins are designed to reduce the amount of water that evaporates using spray irrigation.

“If you look at the army’s net zero definition,” he said, “it calls for us to use the water from the aquifer that we sit on, use it efficiently, and return it to the same watershed so we’re not depleting the surface water resources in that region.”