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Engineers Work to Keep Clean Water Flowing to Iraqis

By Spc. Joshua Hutcheson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

MOSUL, Iraq, Dec. 4, 2003 – American engineers in northern Iraq are using their skills to keep the water flowing into the people's houses in Mosul -- and to keep the oil out.

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Maj. John Gossett, chemical officer, 926th Engineer Group, attached to the 101st Airborne Division, checks for oil pockets in an intermittent creek bed that flows into the Tigris River. The oil came from a ruptured pipeline 15 kilometers north of the river. Photo by Spc. Joshua Hutcheson, USA.
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In October a crude oil pipe ruptured, spilling an "unknown quantity" of oil into a dry creek bed 15 kilometers above the Tigris River. The Tigris is the source of water for millions of people in northern Iraq, said Maj. Scott Vick, group plans officer, 926th Engineer Group, attached to the 101st Airborne Division.

The oil pooled in the creek bed until Thanksgiving weekend, when large torrents of rain created an intermittent creek, flushing much of the oil into the Tigris, Vick said.

The oil was then sucked into the intake duct filters at the nearby water treatment plant. The crude clogged the system, forcing plant workers to temporarily shut it down, said Maj. John Gossett, the 926th's chemical officer.

. Shutting down the plant, the clean-water source for Mosul and the surrounding region, affected food preparation and people's ability to drink and bathe.

Cleaning oil out of the water tanks was a complicated job. Because the treatment plant was built on an old design, the water tanks are concrete. The oil soaked into the concrete and made the scrubbing process that much more difficult, Gossett said.

To keep that incident from repeating, engineers attached to the 101st built a dam to keep the water from being contaminated again, Vick said.

Using their own construction equipment and with supplies provided by the Mosul government, engineers from the 926th Engineers Group and 877th Engineer Battalion built a dam in two days. "Everyone agrees that this is the best alternative to prevent oil from reaching the Tigris," Vick said.

The dam was built using three 12-inch diameter pipes placed on the creek bottom, then rocks no larger than 16 inches were dropped on top of the pipes. Because oil floats on top of water, the rocks will collect the crude and keep it from going any further. The water will be able to flow through the submerged pipes, Vick said.

The engineers got equipment and supplies to clean the creek for items such as absorbent booms and pads to stop the oil, skimmers to get the oil out of the water, protective suits for those cleaning the river and other tools to treat the water, Vick said. "This will be the only source of petroleum remediation equipment in northern Iraq," Vick said.

(Spc. Joshua Hutcheson is a journalist assigned to the 101st Airborne Division.)

 

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA soldier with the 877th Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, uses an excavator to make space for a dam to be built by the engineers. Photo by Spc. Joshua Hutcheson, USA.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSoldiers from the 877th Engineer Battalion, attached to the 101st Airborne Division carefully lower a 12-inch diameter pipe into a creek bed as part of the dam they're constructing to keep oil out of the Tigris River. Photo by Spc. Joshua Hutcheson, USA.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageOil soaks into the bank of an intermittent creek that flows into the Tigris River. Engineers attached to the 101st Airborne Division built a dam to stop any more oil from making its way into the river and the Mosul water supply. Photo by Spc. Joshua Hutcheson, USA.  
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