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Unique AFCEC projects help installations stay mission ready

  • Published
  • By Aneta Veedmont
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs
Several unique environmental resilience projects spearheaded by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center are helping installations maintain readiness as climate change uncertainties threaten to disrupt operations. 
In Central Texas, seven conservation projects carried out at Joint Base San Antonio are protecting critical water resources and preserving military training areas. At Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, a living shoreline project is underway to protect key base assets from flooding. Across the country, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, a drought resilience project is reducing the risk of mission restrictions at the base by increasing water supply reliability through a unique Water Rights Lease Agreement. 
The multi-million-dollar projects are executed by AFCEC’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Program, or REPI. The projects are made possible by cost sharing-partnerships between the Air Force and federal, state or local entities. 
“REPI is a Department of Defense program that funds off-base conservation or resilience projects,” said Shawn Rose, AFCEC REPI chief. “The partnerships help installations optimize project funds and resources to preserve military capabilities and protect local ecosystems.”  
Since establishing REPI in 2003, the Air Force has used over $117 million in DoD funds and $110 million in partner funds to protect compatible land uses, conserve natural resources and safeguard mission-critical assets from climatic conditions and landscape changes around installations. 
The program traditionally focuses on land use conservation around military sites. Through REPI the Air Force has protected 151,483 acres from incompatible development. Beyond providing a buffer zone, the program also funds projects that restore natural infrastructure critical to sustain military mission capabilities from climate change impacts such as flooding, drought, or wildfires. 
Resilience projects can take different forms, from sharing the cost of easement acquisitions to incorporating nature-based solutions such as plants or soils to restore green infrastructure, Rose said. 
At JBSA, the REPI team is working with Compatible Lands Foundation to secure conservation easements on 830 acres of land. The $16.4 million partnership is leveraging $10.2 million in REPI and Air Force funds. 
“This is the first and large-scale project example of how REPI is facilitating both environmental conservation and the military mission,” said Mary Nixon, AFCEC’s REPI Project Manager at JBSA.
The partnership has already completed three out of five projects near JBSA’s Camp Bullis to address watershed health in the Edwards Aquifer. 
“These easements will conserve sensitive lands within the Camp Bullis Sentinel Landscape boundary, including 157 acres directly located in the aquifer recharge and contributing zone,” Nixon said.” They will also improve water quantity and quality for the JBSA operations and the City of San Antonio.” 
Two additional projects at Randolph AFB are preserving vital training areas at Seguin Auxiliary Airfield to sustain installation mission readiness. The remaining projects are expected to close within two months. 
Keesler AFB is partnering with the Mississippi State University to develop a 2.5 mile living shoreline to reduce erosion and protect runways and flightlines from sea-level rise and storm surges. 
“The $6.48 million Back Bay effort is the second largest living shoreline project in the State of Mississippi,” said Jonathan Feldman, program management specialist at AFCEC.   
The project, expected to complete between 2027 and 2028, uses native vegetation, sand, rocks and other materials to stabilize the banks and protect against the erosion advancing one foot per year. 
Leveraging a $5.25 million REPI grant through the National Coastal Resilience Fund, this resilience project will protect an active airfield and sustain Keesler’s training mission conducted on the shoreline. 
The coastline effort will also provide far-reaching environmental gains for the vast area outside Keesler AFB benefitting the community and local ecosystem, Feldman said. 
The restored shoreline will re-establish marsh vegetation in the Back Bay, improve water quality and create habitat for fish species aiding in fueling the local fishery industry, said Dr. Eric Sparks, director of the MSU Coastal Marine Extension Program. 
“It is only the second REPI-funded living shoreline project for the Air Force, and it is fundamental because it will lay a groundwork for other efforts of this kind,” Feldman said. 
At Cannon AFB, the REPI team and the Ogallala Land & Water Conservancy (OLWC) are collaborating to conserve water resources in the area and sustain mission readiness at the installation. 
Surrounded by an agricultural community, the base relies on water supply from the Ogallala Aquifer, which is also extensively used to irrigate working landscapes northwest of Cannon AFB. The aquifer’s rapidly depleting groundwater coupled with the limited rainfall the region receives, prompted the Air Force to work on a sustainable groundwater conservation project with local landowners through the partnership with OLWC. 
“Lack of water is a critical issue that threatens Cannon’s operations and mission readiness,” said Jason Rose, AFCEC’s Program Manager who is part of the working group. “Loss of mission would also impact the region’s economy as the operations at Cannon generate more than 6,000 jobs.”  
Using $1.75 million in REPI funds, the installation took a unique approach by implementing a water lease program to secure three-year short-term agreements from the landowners in the paleochannel. 
“OLWC negotiated the purchase of water rights from the landowners willing to cease irrigation and transition to dryland farming or grasslands,” Jason Rose said. “Once the short-term three-year agreements expire, OLWC will execute, with willing landowners, conservation easements that help change the use of these lands to low water use.”
The $3.5 million partnership has so far purchased the agreements for year one and two. With nine participating landowners, a total of 3.5 billion gallons of water will be saved annually in support of the Air Force mission. The action will also improve and restore declining habitats, such as the Playa Lake which provides ground water recharge. 
The benefits to the environment and surrounding community will have long-term positive effects according to the AFCEC team. 
“The majority of what we do that pertains to building resiliency is often not something we are going to physically see,” Shawn Rose said. “That is really the essence of REPI and resiliency.”