HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Honolulu Board of Water Supply has shut down one of Oahu’s major sources of drinking water, the Halawa shaft, over concerns of contamination at the Navy’s Red Hill well.
Officials also called the Navy’s test results unusual and want more details on how testing was done.
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The Halawa Shaft provides water to some 450,000 urban Honolulu residents and is less than a mile from the Red Hill Shaft — which is owned by the Navy and where petroleum compounds have been detected.
“I just want to stress this as a precaution, the Board of Water Supply, as of last night, shortly after hearing the news about the Navy, we have shut down Halawa Shaft,” said Ernie Lau, manager and chief engineer at BWS.
Lau said other wells will increase production to make up the difference. He pointed out that Halawa and Red Hill facilities draw from the same aquifers, so it is like two straws in the same cup.
Jet fuel tanks are located above the aquifers in Red Hill, and BWS has been complaining for years that this is a disaster waiting to happen. Lau held back tears as he made a plea to eliminate that risk once and for all.
“We cannot wait any longer, the water resource is precious, it’s irreplaceable, it’s pure,” said Lau.
BWS also said the Navy’s test results were unusual.
“There were a lot of calls of petroleum odor within the community, but those test results of those samples show that there’s no petroleum detected. So, that to us is a little unusual,” said Erwin Kawata, BWS Program Administrator for Water Quality.
BWS wants to examine the Navy’s full results. KHON2 reached out to the Navy and are waiting for a response.
During a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday, Dec. 2, the Navy confirmed that they detected petroleum products in water samples taken from the Red Hill drinking water well.
All other tests of the Navy Water Distribution System were negative; however, tests will be continued until the water is deemed safe to drink again. It is still unknown where the petroleum products originated from.
The Red Hill well has been isolated since Sunday, Nov. 28, when military housing residents began noticing a fuel-like smell in the tap water. The Navy said so far it has received calls about a fuel odor or physical ailments from 680 homes in Navy housing and 270 in Army housing on the Navy’s water system.
The Navy water system serves approximately 93,000 people. The military said it is working with affected families to temporarily relocate them to hotels.
Lau wants BWS customers to be reassured that their water is not connected to the Navy’s water system and is safe to drink. The company is testing its five wells on a weekly basis for hydrocarbons.
“One thing about losing 20% of the supply for urban Honolulu means that we somehow need to transfer that load onto other wells that are also other supplying urban Honolulu, which means we’re going to be pumping those wells harder,” Lau said in regard to shutting the Halawa shaft.
BWS will be monitoring the condition and quality of the wells since over-pumping could potentially draw saltier water into the wells as the aquifer becomes stressed.
Although the water is safe to drink, Lau advises BWS customers to use water wisely.
“Right now it’s critically important that everybody use only what they absolutely need and not waste it, to practice conservation, because we need to balance that equation of demand and supply,” Lau added.
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Lau believes there is still a window of opportunity for prevention of a disaster to our water resources, “but that window is closing rapidly.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.