Navy reports 3 water main breaks, affecting 93,000 in Pearl Harbor area
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser October 15, 2022
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (Tribune News Service) — The Navy responded to three water main breaks on its Oahu system Friday, urging water conservation and issuing a boil-water advisory to the 93, 000 people served by the system.
Capt. Mark Sohaney, commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, told reporters during a Friday news conference that the breaks had affected joint base facilities, housing, child development centers, schools, the Navy Exchange and “some of our non- Department of Defense customers.”
Child development centers and public schools were closed for the day.
Sohaney set up an Emergency Operations Center to deal with the situation. He didn’t have a timeline for when the breaks will be repaired, but said he hopes to fix the problem swiftly.
“I think the question on everyone’s mind is, When will it be safe to drink the water again ?” Sohaney said. “So we’ve got repair crews on-site doing an assessment, and that all will drive the timeline.”
In the meantime, water distribution sites have been established at the Hickam Main Exchange parking lot near Burger King and the main Navy Exchange parking lot for JBPHH military family housing residents affected by the water main breaks. The sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until further notice, the Navy said.
Sohaney said the Navy is working with the state Department of Health to address any concerns about water quality once repairs are completed.
In a statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, DOH spokesperson Kaitlin Arita-Chang said, “We are the regulator, not the operator of the system. It’s incumbent on the Navy as the operator of the system to fix the breaks and restore service, just like how other public water systems like the Board of Water Supply fix their own breaks.”
Navy officials say that while there is no indication of contamination at this time, the breaks could potentially open up the system to contaminants.
“Any time you have a main break, there’s obviously going to be a void in the water, and we’ve lost pressure and there’s a possibility of infiltration, “ Sohaney said. “So out of an abundance of caution—this is normal practice of protocol for any type of break like this—I issued that boil-water advisory to make sure folks remain safe.”
The Navy is removing fuel from the pipe system connecting its underground Red Hill fuel storage facility to JBPHH, the first step in ultimately defueling and shutting down the facility permanently. In November, fuel from the facility made its way into the Navy’s water system, leading to contamination that sickened hundreds of residents.
The facility’s underground storage tanks sit 100 feet above a critical aquifer that provides drinking water for the majority of urban Honolulu.
The incident has strained relations between Navy officials and military families on base, as well as state officials and residents in surrounding communities. Though both the Navy and DOH say the Navy’s water system is now safe to drink again after extensive cleaning efforts, many residents fear residual contamination.
“I’m not concerned about fuel whatsoever, “ Sohaney said. “What I’m concerned about is potentially soil and bacteria. It’s a low possibility, but I want to make sure that our water is safe.”
On Oct. 7, Tripler Army Medical Center experienced a water main break, forcing the hospital to cancel patient appointments for the day. The hospital ultimately called the Honolulu Board of Water Supply requesting additional water.
Navy officials told reporters Friday they did not think that would be necessary to address the current water main breaks.
“We don’t meet the conditions in which we would call them for additional water ; we’re OK for now, “ Sohaney said.
But when reached for comment by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the BWS said the Navy had reached out with a “preliminary request “ to send water to its system.
“The BWS has asked the Navy to provide more information about their water needs—including the amount of water and duration of assistance being asked for—to adequately determine if we can accommodate the request without negatively impacting the BWS’s system and its customers, “ said BWS spokesperson Tracy Burgo. “The BWS has been dealing with its own water supply challenges resulting from the shutdown of three of its own sources due to the Navy’s 2021 Red Hill facility fuel leak.”
The Navy had asked residents of its bases to scale back water use in the aftermath of the contamination and the loss of its Red Hill water well, which is undergoing remediation efforts. The Navy has since had to rely on its Waiawa shaft for water, but in June the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management warned the Navy that it was over-pumping that well.
According to the Navy, the first main break Friday occurred at about 4 :15 a.m. at the Waiau Hawaiian Electric power station off Kamehameha Highway. Then about 30 minutes later, a car crashed near a Naval Exchange around Pearl City.
“Apparently, that vehicle struck a riser and created a leak as well, and that leak has been secured and isolated, “ Sohaney said.
He said the third leak, at the Navy’s West Loch Annex, was an anticipated effect of efforts to contain the first two leaks.
“What we did is we isolated both of those, and when you isolate the main break ... (and ) divert that water, now you’re bringing a lot of pressure back into the system. We expect other potential weak areas in the system to potentially have a leak, “ he explained. “And that’s what we have : We have a smaller line leak that is not a major concern.”
NAVY WATER DISTRIBUTION
Residents of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam military family housing affected by the water main breaks can pick up 1 gallon of water per person, per day. A valid military ID is required.—Where : Hickam Main Exchange parking lot near Burger King and the main Navy Exchange parking lot—When : 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until further notice—Other information : The Navy is urging water conservation and notes that a boil-water advisory remains in effect for affected areas until further notice.
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