HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Honolulu Board of Water Supply discussed the Navy’s investigative report on the Red Hill fuel storage tank leak and water contamination crisis in November 2021.

BWS also commented on the Navy’s defueling plan during a news conference on Friday, July 1.

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The United States Navy released these two documents on Thursday, June 30. Their investigative report included details on the May and November 2021 fuel releases, as well as preventable failures leading up to the spill and water crisis that left many Oahu residents with contaminated water.

“The BWS is disturbed but not surprised by the contents of the two documents released yesterday by the U.S. Navy regarding the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.”

Ernie Lau, Chief Engineer at the Honolulu Board of Water Supply

Lau continued and said the Navy’s investigations into both spills acknowledged that the drinking water contamination was due to the following:

  • The Navy’s ineffective responses to the May and November 2021 fuel releases;
  • Failure to resolve deficiencies in the design and construction of the Red Hill facility;
  • Lack of Navy knowledge, training and accountability;
  • Failure to learn from past mistakes.

He noted that the BWS issued warnings of these problems and the imminent threat the Red Hill facility has on Oahu’s drinking water — both were ignored.

“Now, our irreplaceable, sole source groundwater aquifer is contaminated, possibly irrevocably,” Lau said.

The Navy’s Red Hill defueling plan, Lau added, was “equally disappointing” and “alarmingly devoid of detail.” Some information he pointed out were missing included the scope of the defueling work, as well as the budget and schedule for the defueling process.

According to the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility defueling plan, they identified Dec. 31, 2024 as the earliest date that the facility will be defueled safely. During the news conference, Lau said this was “unacceptable.”

“The suggested timeline stands in stark contrast to repeated assurances from the Navy over the last several years that the Red Hill tanks and pipelines are properly designed, constructed and installed, that the facility meets or exceeds regulatory standards, and that each tank can be emptied in less than 24 hours.  Only now that defueling and permanent closure is imminent does the Navy claim that it will take over two years to defuel the Red Hill facility,” explained Lau.

Although the BWS agreed that safety should be the main concern during the defueling process, the longer the millions of gallons of fuel remains in the facility, the environment, safe drinking water and health of the island’s people will be at risk.

“This massive Red Hill facility was built between 1940 and 1943 — in three years. But it’s gonna take them two and a half years to empty out the tanks and pipelines of 104 million gallons of fuel. That’s simply not acceptable.”

Ernie Lau, Chief Engineer at the Honolulu Board of Water Supply

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Click here for the Navy’s investigation on the May and November 2021 fuel releases.

Click here for the Navy’s defueling plan.