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Commission on Water Resource Management continues work to modify Navy's water permits

Red Hill Well navy water test 021622
Petty Officer 2nd Class MarQueon/Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet
AIEA, Hawaii (Feb. 16, 2022) A Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command contractor pours a water sample to conduct real-time monitoring at Red Hill Well. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mar’Queon A. D. Tramble)

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Commission on Water Resource Management unanimously approved an initial draft of recommendations by a permitted interaction group to modify the U.S. Navy’s three water-use permits earlier this week.

In part, this would require the Navy to produce a comprehensive aquifer recovery plan as part of its permits.

Commissioner Michael Buck said these actions will go hand-in-hand with the state Department of Health's emergency orders and long-term recovery following the Red Hill water contamination crisis.

“We're just trying to augment the Department of Health and DLNR, both have different kuleanas, but we're working together, and this is the full range of authority and leverage that the state of Hawaiʻi has,” Buck said Tuesday.

The DOH and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working together in conjunction with the Navy to come up with a defueling plan.

Kathy Ho, DOH deputy director, said that while she appreciated the work of the group, there could be unintended consequences.

“What I'm afraid of is if the commission chooses to amend its water use permit to include these terms, it might lead to inconsistent enforcement,” Ho said. “ In other words, the Department of Health and EPA will be going down one path, and the commission will decide to go down one path on a similar issue.”

Buck said the recommendations are not meant to duplicate any efforts.

“Your ability to enforce usually ends up in fines, as far as the Navy. I don't think that has much influence on them, it's not their money anyhow,” Buck said. “Our leverage is their use of water.”

The commission made minor tweaks to the permitted interaction group’s report, including changing the order of priorities and adding a condition for compliance with the DOH.

The approval at Tuesday’s meeting was the first step to ratifying several recommendations made by the commission’s permitted interaction group. It will still need to go for public notice.

Modifications and edits to the draft are ongoing for legal accuracy.

“Thank you all very, very much for all your hard work on this,” DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said. “It’s a very impressive summary of information and thoughtful approach to how the Water Commission can best support this process to make sure that we end up with a healthy aquifer in the end.”

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