Water Supply

Mountain water should never be assumed safe for consumption. Training in water discipline should be emphasized to ensure soldiers drink water only from approved sources. Fluids lost through respiration, perspiration, and urination must be replaced if the soldier is to operate efficiently.

a. Maintaining fluid balance is a major problem in mountain operations. The sense of thirst may be dulled by high elevations despite the greater threat of dehydration. Hyperventilation and the cool, dry atmosphere bring about a three- to four-fold increase in water loss by evaporation through the lungs. Hard work and overheating increase the perspiration rate. The soldier must make an effort to drink liquids even when he does not feel thirsty. One quart of water, or the equivalent, should be drunk every four hours; more should be drunk if the unit is conducting rigorous physical activity.

b. Three to six quarts of water each day should be consumed. About 75 percent of the human body is liquid. All chemical activities in the body occur in water solution, which assists in removing toxic wastes and in maintaining an even body temperature. A loss of two quarts of body fluid (2.5 percent of body weight) decreases physical efficiency by 25 percent, and a loss of 12 quarts (15 percent of body weight) is usually fatal. Salt lost by sweating should be replaced in meals to avoid a deficiency and subsequent cramping. Consuming the usual military rations (three meals a day) provides sufficient sodium replacement. Salt tablets are not necessary and may contribute to dehydration.

c. Even when water is plentiful, thirst should be satisfied in increments. Quickly drinking a large volume of water may actually slow the soldier. If he is hot and the water is cold, severe cramping may result. A basic rule is to drink small amounts often. Pure water should always be kept in reserve for first aid use. Emphasis must be placed on the three rules of water discipline:

• Drink only treated water.

• Conserve water for drinking. Potable water in the mountains may be in short supply.

• Do not contaminate or pollute water sources.

d. Snow, mountain streams, springs, rain, and lakes provide good sources of water supply. Purification must be accomplished, however, no matter how clear the snow or water appears. Fruits, juices, and powdered beverages may supplement and encourage water intake (do not add these until the water has been treated since the purification tablets may not work). Soldiers cannot adjust permanently to a decreased water intake. If the water supply is insufficient, physical activity must be reduced. Any temporary deficiency should be replaced to maintain maximum performance.

e. All water that is to be consumed must be potable. Drinking water must be taken only from approved sources or purified to avoid disease or the possible use of polluted water. Melting snow into water requires an increased amount of fuel and should be planned accordingly. Nonpotable water must not be mistaken for drinking water. Water that is unfit to drink, but otherwise not dangerous, may be used for other purposes such as bathing. Soldiers must be trained to avoid wasting water. External cooling (pouring water over the head and chest) is a waste of water and an inefficient means of cooling. Drinking water often is the best way to maintain a cool and functioning body.

f. Water is scarce above the timberline. After setting up a perimeter (patrol base, assembly area, defense), a watering party should be employed. After sundown, high mountain areas freeze, and snow and ice may be available for melting to provide water. In areas where water trickles off rocks, a shallow reservoir may be dug to collect water (after the sediment settles). Water should be treated with purification tablets (iodine tablets or calcium hypochlorite), or by boiling at least one to two minutes. Filtering with commercial water purification pumps can also be conducted. Solar stills may be erected if time and sunlight conditions permit (see FM 21-76). Water should be protected from freezing by storing it next to a soldier or by placing it in a sleeping bag at night. Water should be collected at midday when the sun thaw available.

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