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Well that delivers 20% of Honolulu’s water supply shut down to protect against contamination

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 11:23 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 3, 2021 at 10:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Board of Water Supply sought to reassure customers Friday, saying its water remains safe and free of the petroleum contaminants found in the Navy system.

But BWS officials also said action is needed to keep it that way.

As a precaution, the agency has shut down its Halawa well ― which delivers 20% of the water supply to Urban Honolulu ― and is relying on other sources to make up the difference.

The Board of Water Supply said it acted quickly Thursday night to shut down the water source after learning from the Navy that tests had confirmed the presence of petroleum in its Red Hill well.

The Navy’s announcement came nearly five days after military households first started reporting that their water smelled like fuel and was making them sick.

In a news conference Friday, Board of Water Supply Chief Engineer Ernest Lau explained that the Halawa well, which pumps 10 million gallons of water a day to customers from Halawa to Hawaii Kai, was shut down because “we tap the same aquifer” as the Navy.

“We basically take water from the same glass of water,” he added. “What we don’t want to do is suck the fuel across the valley ... into our wells and send it to our customers.”

Lau also said the frequency of testing at nearby wells will be increased to weekly.

He said the crisis is a wake-up call that the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility needs to be addressed. The underground facility with 180 million gallons of fuel sits 100 feet above the aquifer.

“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” Lau said.

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“I think this is a foreshadowing of what could happen to the broader community if we don’t do something about the storage of this fuel. We cannot wait any longer.”

At a town hall on Thursday night, the Navy confirmed tests detected petroleum products in its Red Hill drinking water well but said petroleum was not found in samples collected elsewhere in the system.

The Board of Water Supply questioned that conclusion and called on the Navy to release its full testing results. State Health Department tests did find petroleum in water at Red Hill Elementary.

The Navy system serves 93,000 customers, including military households and several public schools.

Those who use the Navy water are being told not to drink it.

Households that smell fuel in the water should not use it for bathing or household chores.

In the wake of the Navy’s announcement, a host of questions remain unanswered, including how the problem will be cleaned up and how the petroleum got into the water in the first place.

The Navy has maintained it doesn’t yet know the source of the petroleum in its Red Hill well.

But Lau said the “obvious facts” point to the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility.

This story will be updated.

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