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Pentagon Not Using Leading Practices to Assess Water Scarcity at Installations

The_PentagonBy Marc Kodack

The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) latest audit of DoD installations focused on “the extent to which DoD has assurance that it is using reliable information to identify installations at risk of water scarcity.” GAO found that DOD does not have “assurance that [it] is using accurate and reliable information regarding which installations are at risk for water scarcity.” GAO examined multiple DoD and military service assessments that focused on or included water scarcity. Some of these assessments included the effects of climate change on water availability. GAO collected installation information on water scarcity from field visits or through questionnaires from a total of 17 installations. The installations selected were previously identified by DoD or the Services as having water vulnerabilities or scarcity.

Water serves multiple functions at an installation including operation of mission critical and support facilities, protecting health and safety/maintain equipment, and providing quality of life. In fiscal year 2018, DoD installations consumed approximately 84 billion gallons of water. DoD does not collect or report how much water is withdrawn or how much water is embedded in products manufactured by or for each Service at its installations.

The different assessments that GAO reviewed had different installation lists for which installations were at risk of water scarcity. Combined, the assessments contained 102 different installations, with 42 in more than one assessment. DoD identified more installations at risk of water scarcity than the individual Services. GAO was concerned that “the substantial differences in results [of the assessments] raise questions about whether the assessments that produced them were methodologically sound and about which source of information DOD is using to identify installations at risk of water scarcity—information needed for water resource management.”

GAO found that DoD was not using all five of the leading practices that GAO identified in DoD’s assessments for identifying and analyzing water scarcity. DoD did not consistently use four of the five leading practices including (1) identify current water availability, (2) identify future water availability, (3) take into account all sources of water, or (4) precisely identify locations.” However, for the individual Service assessments that GAO reviewed, all five practices were used including the four previously mentioned as well as, comprehensively include all locations. DoD does not believe that it is feasible to rely on the Service assessments “to identify installations at risk of water scarcity across DOD” even though the Service assessments consistently use all five leading practices. The result of this is that GAO notes that DoD “lacks assurance that it has quality information and risks potentially using or providing to Congress unreliable information.”

Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, will challenge multiple Department of Defense (DoD) installations to support the missions that they host. The Services have actively been surveying their respective installations and collecting data on water availability and use to determine which installations may be at risk now of in the future of not having sufficient water to continue their respective missions. DoD currently does not have its own information to determine which installations it believes are at risk of water scarcity.

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