The Honolulu Board of Water Supply has shut down its Halawa well to protect southern Oahu’s drinking water from potentially being contaminated with petroleum. The precautionary measure was taken after the Navy announced last night that it had determined the source of contamination within its water system was coming from petroleum in its Red Hill shaft.
The water systems maintained by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply and Navy are separate. But the wells both pull water from the same aquifer.
“Basically, we take water from the same glass of water,” said Ernie Lau, manager and chief engineer of the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, during a press conference Friday.
Lau stressed that there is no indication that the water supplied by the Board of Water Supply, which serves the majority of residents and businesses on Oahu, is contaminated.
“I wanted to reassure our customers that their drinking water is safe,” said Lau.
But the Navy’s findings suggest that there is significant fuel contamination in the aquifer and Board of Water Supply officials worry those petroleum products could migrate across Halawa Valley to their own well, which supplies about 20% of the water for urban Oahu, from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai.
Lau said that he didn’t know how long the Board of Water Supply could keep the Halawa well off-line, but in the meantime, he’s urging residents to conserve water.
“It’s critically important that everybody use only what they actually need,” said Lau.
The Board of Water Supply has worried that the Navy’s Red Hill Underground Fuel Facility could contaminate the aquifer below ever since 2014 when the Navy announced that 27,000 gallons of fuel had leaked from one of its massive underground fuel tanks. The tanks sit just 100 feet above the aquifer.
Lau has urged the Navy to install better safeguards to protect the water supply system or move the tanks, but has often been shut out of discussions between the Navy and federal and state environmental regulators.
On Sunday, the Navy shut down its Red Hill well, without telling the Board of Water Supply, as it investigated why military families began complaining of fuel and chemical odors coming from their tap water, as well as symptoms such as rashes, nausea and diarrhea that they believed were linked to the water.
The Board of Water Supply didn’t find out about the closure until Tuesday, even though Lau has raised concerns for years that shutting down the Red Hill well, if there is contamination in the below aquifer, could hasten migration of that fuel to the Board of Water Supply’s well. Essentially, the water could be sucked toward the Halawa shaft at a faster rate.
Lau choked up as he discussed the situation that Oahu is now in.
“We cannot wait any longer,” said Lau of addressing the Navy’s Red Hill tanks. “The water resource is precious. It’s irreplaceable. It’s pure. There is no substitute for pure water.”