BWS says keeping Navy fuel out of aquifer will be a long-term challenge

The Board of Water Supply says it could be a matter of months before chemicals leak into the city's reserves.
Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 5:03 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2021 at 5:36 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Board of Water Supply warned Oahu households and businesses Thursday that its system could eventually be impacted by the Navy’s petroleum contamination.

BWS officials also say keeping contamination out of the aquifer will be a long-term challenge.

And with several Board of Water Supply wells now shut down as a precaution, officials say non-Navy water customers could face mandatory water restrictions in the months ahead.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Navy disputed the Health Department’s conclusion that its Aiea-Halawa well is contaminated. The statement came a day after the state Health Department reported that a second Navy water well tested positive for high levels of fuel contamination.


Board of Water Supply officials are skeptical of the Navy’s assertions, and are standing by their decision to shut down the city’s Aiea and Halawa wells in a bid to prevent the contamination from spreading.

The agency’s chief engineer says it’s impossible to know how much fuel could be in the ground and where it’s going because access to critical information is being withheld.

“That was the highest hit for petroleum in drinking water for all of the samples taken thus far,” said Ernest Lau. “So where did it come from Navy?”

BWS officials confirmed just about all of the information they receive comes from testing conducted by the Navy. Despite repeated requests over the years, they have not been granted access to military property to conduct their own testing.

At a news conference Thursday, Lau said the Navy hasn’t been forthcoming. That’s even though tests revealed petroleum ― double levels considered safe ― in the military’s Aiea Halawa water shaft.

Lau says BWS found out about the results Thursday over the phone, and he added that the Navy has yet to give them an official lab report or answer even basic questions.

“I think the Navy needs to clarify more as to where that sample came from and under what conditions the sample was collected,” said Erwin Kawata, program administrator for the Water Quality Division.

BWS officials say it’s also unclear how widespread the contamination is on base and where the fuel is moving. The source of the fuel is also unknown, though it’s believed to be coming from the underground Red Hill fuel storage facility, which sits 100 feet above the aquifer.

“The best thing to do right now is the Navy to immediately remove the fuel out of their World War II facility at Red Hill and store it elsewhere. Empty the tanks. Empty the pipelines,” Lau said.

“Because the longer they stay the chances of further leakage, perhaps large amounts of leaks of fuel going right into our aquifer could happen.”

Lau also said time is running out for the Navy to drain its tanks before more wells are contaminated.

Exactly when fuel might reach the public water supply is the big question. “We don’t know,” Lau said. “We have a very rough estimate. It could be six months to a year.”

For now, BWS tests have not detected any petroleum in its system.

Officials are asking people not to waste water and conservation efforts continue to be voluntary.

A joint-informational briefing at the State Capitol with the Navy, Health Department, BWS and deputy director for Environmental Health Administration will be held on Friday at 1:30 p.m.

To watch the briefing, click here.

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