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Voluntary water conservation is paying off for Oʻahu, Board of Water Supply says

Board of Water Supply Manager and Chief Engineer Ernest "Ernie" Lau at a press conference about the contaminated Navy water system on Dec. 3, 2021.
Jason Ubay
FILE - Board of Water Supply Manager and Chief Engineer Ernest "Ernie" Lau at a press conference about the contaminated Navy water system on Dec. 3, 2021.

With the current rate of voluntary water conservation, proposed construction projects in Honolulu are no longer in jeopardy of being put on hold, Board of Water Supply Chief Engineer Ernie Lau reported Tuesday.

Earlier this year, BWS requested that the public cut down on water consumption by 10% following the need to shut down three shafts due to the Red Hill crisis and farther reaching contamination.

BWS sent letters to some developers stating that the department was unable to determine if water meters would be given for some new projects potentially seeking permits.

During a presentation to the Honolulu City Council Committee on Housing and the Economy, Lau said that based on new data, water availability will not hit critical levels this summer as was previously feared.

Revised letters will be sent out, he said.

“A number of letters have gone out and it varies in size from like a single home construction to a larger project,” Lau told the committee. “We're right now reevaluating based on this information that we shared with you today that we don't see that we're going to be in the critical water shortage condition, and that we can actually just stay at voluntary conservation.”

Lau reports that there are over 4,100 proposed developments between the Aiea-Halawa and Honolulu water systems over the next five years. These projects could use nearly 9.6 million gallons of water per day.

The presentation focused on the water systems' challenge to balance meeting water demand and being able to recover at the end of the day.

If demand is greater than supply, water tanks will begin to dwindle.

“Pumps have to run about 20 hours a day to meet the demands of our customers out of our 24-hour day timeframe,” Lau said. “If we can keep up, that means our reservoirs will still be able to refill at night and empty during the day. But if we don't keep up with the demand, and if demand is greater than the supply, then what we'll find is the water levels in our water tanks will start to go down over time and customers who start may start to see lower pressure or no water.”

According to the presentation, a critical water shortage condition would occur if the Aiea Halawa system hit 4.5 million gallons of water a day and the Honolulu system hit 80 million gallons per day. Historical data doesn’t typically get that high.

Continued voluntary water conservation will remain critical in the coming months to avoid overworking the available water systems.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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