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Water commission remains critical of Navy's actions, lack of timely transparency

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM (Jan. 10, 2022) - A faucet is opened to flush the water system at Hickam Elementary School. The Interagency Drinking Water System Team is a joint initiative between the U.S. Navy, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army to restore safe drinking water. (U.S. Navy photo)
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeremy Lemmon Jr./Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM (Jan. 10, 2022) - A faucet is opened to flush the water system at Hickam Elementary School. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Navy received a potential notice of water use earlier this summer for overpumping the Waiawa Shaft on Oʻahu. It’s only recently come to light that the shaft is currently experiencing a leak.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Commission on Water Resource Management meeting has been monitoring the Navy’s water use. At its meeting Tuesday, Deputy Director for Water Resource Management Kaleo Manuel told commissioners that staff met with the Navy last week.

“We were made aware that there was a leak found in the system that they're working on fixing,” Manuel said. “And that could be related to the overpumping that we've seen, or could be a help to reduce waste, right, or some leakage in the system.”

In early June, the commission notified the U.S. Navy of a potential water use permit violation for overpumping the Waiawa Shaft by about 2 million gallons per day, which has been necessary to flush out the Red Hill Shaft following water contamination last year. If violations are determined, the Navy could face a $5,000 fine per day.

Naval Facilities Engineering Commander James Sullivan briefed the commission on remediation efforts following last year’s fuel spills at the Red Hill bulk storage facility. He said the Navy has already expanded its water monitoring capacity with the addition of three wells.

The Navy is also testing the soil by taking up the floor.

“We have taken, in five different locations, cutouts and borings within the floor about 5 foot in depth to get below the concrete and to take soil vapor of the area again to help characterize what might be going on in the levels between the tunnel and the actual aquifer,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said once they determine the levels of contamination, they will be able to explain the technology and tools they’ll use.

But the body remained critical of the Navy’s actions and lack of timely transparency.

Commissioner Neil Hannahs raised concerns with the information the Navy has provided. During this meeting, Sullivan was unable to provide specific information and deferred to other team members who were not present at the meeting.

“It’s a little bit frustrating for the commission because we have one meeting a month and we need to get a lot of information at that meeting,” Hannahs said. “When the whole team doesn't come or one person who can represent the whole team doesn't come it just delays the information process by many months.”

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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