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Marines help fight red-soil runoff

Date Posted: 2004-03-19

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan — Issues dealing with the environment are not a high topic of discussion amongst Marines serving on Okinawa. Addressing environmental issues is equally as important in our efforts to be good ambassadors as visiting with orphans at Oura Wan Beach or landscaping in Kin Town.

However, Camp S. D. Butler’s Environmental Branch is working together with combat engineers from 3rd Force Service Support Group to help eliminate environmental hazards, in particular the red-soil erosion problem occurring in Okinawa’s surrounding waters.

The Marine Corps has taken responsibility for it’s own training areas in the mid to northern parts of the island. The Central Training Area, which stretches from Camp Hansen to Camp Schwab, has several run-off points where water runs from hilltops into either the Pacific Ocean or East China Sea. When Okinawa receives rainfall, the dirt washes down the hill slopes and eventually finds it’s way into the ocean, choking off and destroying the coral reefs and harming the aquatic life living there.

With the training grounds littered with mud, dirt and clay, the problem of red-soil erosion and the Marine Corps’ involvement has caught the attention of both Okinawa Prefecture Government and MCB Butler officials.

“Okinawa has environmental laws in place to control the red soil erosion affecting the reefs off of the coast,” said Larry R. Soenen, U.S. Forest Service soil scientist currently assigned to Environmental Branch, MCB Camp S. D. Butler. “The turbidity issues within Okinawa's waters are being addressed with the help of Marine volunteers and fully automated water sensors called the Automatic Turbidity Sensor Reader.”

Two sensors are placed in ditches at separate points in the CTA, one at the Mitoku River and another at the Kan River. The sensors gather water samples every time the area receives rainfall or the water level rises by 10 percent.

The samples are pulled from the river via a pump and distributed into vials at the station. Soenen and his co-workers gather the samples every two weeks and take them to a laboratory aboard Kadena Air Base for testing.

“The monitoring process to determine how much soil we are contributing to the ocean will be ongoing for five years,” Soenen said. “We started the process in August of last year so we still have a long way to go.”

Soenen, with the help of Marine engineers is currently constructing new ways to keep the soil from finding its way into the surrounding waters.

“One of the main things we have done to prevent the problem from getting worse is planting grass where the ground is bare at training sites,” Soenen mentioned. “Wedelia is a type of grass that is perfect for this issue and it is also fire resistant, so Okinawa is benefiting from this in other ways as well.”

The employees from Environmental Branch working on this project are committed to monitoring the water running into the Kan and Mitoku Rivers, and with the help of other Marine units on Okinawa, the issue is on its way to becoming nearly solved.

“We’ve been doing a pretty good job policing ourselves with this issue,” Soenen concluded. “Camp Butler put up the money to purchase the sensors and hired me to address the problem, so I think that shows their commitment to the situation. I also can’t thank the engineers from 9th Engineer Support Battalion enough for assisting me in these projects.”

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