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Windmills to bring clean water to villages

By Natalie Rostek Sgt., 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div. PAO

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Col. Ryan Kuhn, from Clarks, Neb., and Maj. Chris Hempel, from Elizabeth, N.J., discuss a windmill-powered ground water pump in Al Zatia village March 1. (U.S. Army photo)
Col. Ryan Kuhn, from Clarks, Neb., and Maj. Chris Hempel, from Elizabeth, N.J., discuss a windmill-powered ground water pump in Al Zatia village March 1. (U.S. Army photo)

March 6, 2008 — FOB HAMMER, Iraq (March 5, 2008) — To assess the water production of two windmill-powered ground water pumps in Narhwan, leaders from 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team and Multi-National Corps – Iraq visited two villages March 1.

The first stop for Col. Ryan Kuhn, deputy commanding officer for 3rd HBCT, and Maj. Chris Hempel, agricultural officer from MNC-I Civil-Military Operations Cell, was the village of al Zatia, where they met with the head contractor for both windmill projects.

Analyzing the windmill-powered pumps potential for potable water production led him to consider using pumps for irrigation, Hempel, from Elizabeth, N.J., said.

After al Zatia, Hempel and Kuhn traveled to the village of Hollandia to check on the unfinished windmill project there.

“The windmills are used for the majority of the villagers’ drinking water,” Hempel said. “It was being trucked in from vendors. With the windmill-powered ground water pumps, they won’t have to pay for water.”

After he finishes his visit with the 3rd HBCT, Hempel will take the information he gathers about the windmills to MNC-I officials to see what kind of support they can provide to complete the mission.

“This area is unique,” Hempel said. “It’s the only area with these windmills. This is a 3rd HBCT project and we wanted to get eyes-on so we can potentially expand throughout other areas of the country. We will keep monitoring the project’s progress at Corps.”

The idea for a windmill-powered ground water pump came from a joint effort between Kuhn and leaders of the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion, from Knoxville, Tenn.

Kuhn, from Clarks, Neb., said he grew up not much differently than the Iraqi villagers he spoke with.

“I’m a farm boy from Nebraska,” he said. “If this worked for me in Nebraska where water is hard to come by, there is no reason it wouldn’t work out here.”

When Kuhn first proposed the idea to local contractors, they thought the project would not work.

It was not until Kuhn drew exactly what he wanted on paper, that the contractor was able to research the engineering aspect of a windmill and build it from scratch.

The first windmill was finished in early January. Each structure costs approximately $20,000, which includes the well, storage tank and a small pump.

Kuhn said he has plans to add solar purification systems to the windmills, bumping their price to $27,000.

“It’s a simple idea that has great value,” he said. “This is the first time the wind and sun have been used together to provide clean drinking water anywhere in Iraq. It requires all renewable energy and helps protect the environment. It’s simple technology and it can’t fail.”

The windmills pull water from 30-meter-deep ground wells into 200-gallon holding tanks, Kuhn said. The pump can produce 200 gallons of water every hour and provide water for up to 150 families.

“When we got the first one up, the elders called it a spaceship,” Kuhn said. “I told them, ‘You can call it what you want as long as it provides water for your village.’”

Kuhn said, “One of the elders responded with, ‘I know God has not given up on us. We have not had drinking water since 2003.’”

In addition to water, the windmills will provide villagers jobs, Kuhn said. The contractor in charge of the project is going to hire local people to maintain the structures.

“We are hoping to develop businesses from this that will manufacture windmills for Iraq,” Kuhn said. “Right now they are shipping in equipment, but we know for a fact that Iraq can manufacture these.”

Kuhn believes windmill water production also sends a message to insurgents, he said.

“Insurgents used to be able to control the prices when the water was delivered,” he said. “Now that the area is secure, they can’t do that anymore. The windmills deliver water for free using the sun and the wind. This puts great pressure on the insurgents.”

Kuhn hopes to be able to provide every rural village with a pump. Security has improved and he believes this goal is achievable.

“My dream is to be able to produce enough water so no child will ever have to go long periods of time without water,” he said. “Children can play in the streets now and with the windmills, they can come get a drink of water and go right back out and play.”

The 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.