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Ben Castellana, a coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency, and Kathleen Ho, deputy director of the Hawaii Health Department, sign a joint plan at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 17, 2021, that details how the Navy’s water distribution system will be purged of petroleum contamination.
Ben Castellana, a coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency, and Kathleen Ho, deputy director of the Hawaii Health Department, sign a joint plan at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 17, 2021, that details how the Navy’s water distribution system will be purged of petroleum contamination. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – The Navy was to begin flushing its petroleum-contaminated water system on Oahu as early as Sunday under a joint plan agreed to Friday by state and federal agencies.

Under the plan’s timeline, the first of roughly two dozen military housing communities affected by the contamination could have clean water by the first week of January.

“Collaborating on plans like this ensures that federal, state and county partners have a framework to conduct flushing activities in a safe and effective manner,” Kathleen Ho, deputy director of the Hawaii Health Department, said after a brief signing ceremony for the plan Friday at U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters.

The other signatories were with the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Garrison Hawaii and Navy Region Hawaii.

The plan was not publicly available as of Friday afternoon.

The Navy is grappling with petroleum contamination of its water distribution system for military housing communities on and near the joint base. The Army administrates several of the contaminated communities.

About 3,000 residents have temporarily moved to hotels in the wake of the contamination, which the Navy traced to a Nov. 20 jet fuel spill on part of its Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility.

The plan was developed by a team of doctors, engineers and scientists, with input from state and federal regulatory agencies, Rear Adm. Blake Converse, deputy commander of Pacific Fleet, told reporters at the signing.

“We're going to flush the system,” Converse said. “We're going to flush each of the individual lines going to the homes, and we're going to flush each of the homes to restore clean water. And we're going to test the system at several steps along the way to the appropriate standards.”

The plan’s timeline projects clean water could be restored for the first affected community within 17 days, said Converse, who did not disclose the order in which communities will be flushed.

The tens of millions of gallons of tainted water in the distribution system will be processed through massive carbon filtering systems the Navy is having flown in from the mainland.

The first two shipments of components was expected to arrive Friday on an Air Force C-5 Galaxy, Converse said.

“We're going to start the first set of flushes perhaps as soon as Sunday,” Converse said. “And so from 17 days after that, that community could have restored safe drinking water.”

Decisions about which communities will be flushed first are based on the technical design of the distribution system, Converse said.

“If a neighborhood is what I call upstream or on the pumping side of another neighborhood, we would want to flush that first and then flush down to the last neighborhood or community on that,” he said. “We also looked at the number of filtration units we have on island at the time we start to determine which neighborhoods can we physically do.”

Tainted water now sitting within households – typically 80 to 120 gallons in pipes and water heaters – will be flushed into the regular sewer system, where contaminants are already routinely process-filtered, Converse said.

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