Military’s plan to stop using fresh drinking water on Oahu golf course halted by DOH

Golf course ‘water fight’; Military’s plan to stop using drinking water for irrigation halted by Dept. of Health
Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 10:08 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 3, 2023 at 8:52 AM HST

WINDWARD OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After years of pressure from environmental groups, the military wants to stop using fresh drinking water to irrigate a golf course in Kaneohe.

However, environmentalists are skeptical, and the state health department says there are rules to follow.

The state Sen. Brenton Awa who represents the area tells us the golf course at Marine Corps Base Hawaii uses about 11 million gallons of fresh drinking water a month.

The Marines say they can be more resourceful by using recycled wastewater instead, but they need the green light from the Department of Health.

HNN was given access inside the military’s water reclamation facility at the Kaneohe Marine base, where officials say that in one day alone, it can turn 2.6 million gallons of wastewater into recycled water.

Right now, the water is discharged into the ocean.

The Marines want to use it to irrigate the 18-hole Clipper golf course — Sen. Awa supports it.

“We went to the Department of Health — as did the Board of Water Supply — and wanted the department to sign off,” Awa said.

“But the Department of Health told us its mission is to protect our servicemen and women and their families, and it is not budging until its requirements are met.”

One of the requirements is that the course needs barriers to keep the spray from drifting to nearby homes.

The base also must build a “chlorine contact tank’” where treated water would sit for 15 minutes.

The military says a $200 million upgrade to the facility is already in the works, but there is no timeline for construction.

Awa is seeking a compromise. “The Department of Health does not want to change their stance, but we bumped it the governor’s chief of staff the other day, and they are willing to work with us and perhaps influence to change their stance,” Awa said.

While fresh water is being used to water this grass, Wayne Tanaka with the Sierra Club of Hawaii says the state’s rules are there for a good reason.

“We just can’t keep trusting the military to say what they are doing,” Tanaka says. “We need to take a critical look.”

“The marine base has been using potable water to irrigate their golf course for years… I don’t see why it’s taken this long to get to the point of requesting this recycled wastewater,” Tanaka added.

Military officials declined to go on camera for this story. However, the MCBH issued a statement saying:

MCBH views water conservation as an integral part of our responsibility to the community, the environment, and future generations. We continue to work in close collaboration with the local community, State agencies, and government officials in optimizing our water usage to be even better stewards of this precious resource. To date, MCBH proudly maintains a record of consistently surpassing the water conservation goals set forth by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply. These conservation accomplishments underscore MCBH’s unwavering commitment to sustainability, protecting the environment, and environmental stewardship that extends beyond our military mission. We are eager to partner with organizations and stakeholders to explore mutually beneficial and sustainable solutions that further advance water conservation initiatives on the Windward side of Oahu.