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Navy's Pearl Harbor Water Supply Runs Into New Problems

pearl harbor
USN file image

Published Oct 16, 2022 6:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy is in hot water again over a new issue with its fresh-water system at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The water service suffered breaks in two mains on the same day, forcing a boil water notice for an indefinite period of time for the 93,000 servicemembers and family members who use the system. The shutdown follows a severe fuel-in-water contamination incident last year, which affected thousands of residents and ultimately forced the decommissioning of the base's strategic fuel storage facility. 

The sudden run of water main breaks at Pearl Harbor-Hickam make for an unusual coincidence. The first happened at Tripler Army Medical Center on October 7, forcing the facility to shut for a day. The second break happened in the early hours of Friday morning at the base's Waiau steam turbine power station. Within the same hour, a car struck a water main riser at a different base location, starting a smaller leak. In response, the system's operators shut off the broken lines, and all of the base's customers are under a boil water notice as a precautionary measure due to a drop in pressure.

If the situation worsens further, the command at Pearl Harbor may have to call on a longtime local adversary for help. Honolulu's Board of Water Supply (BWS) has been a vocal opponent of the continued operation of the Red Hill fuel storage facility for years, and its staff supported the site's ultimate shutdown, citing the threat of groundwater contamination. Now, the Navy has asked the BWS to see if it can provide supplemental water for Pearl Harbor, according to Stars and Stripes - but the Navy's spill at Red Hill may have reduced the board's ability to help. 

"The BWS has been dealing with its own water supply challenges resulting from the shutdown of three of its own sources due to the Navy’s 2021 Red Hill facility fuel leak," a BWS spokesperson told Stars and Stripes. 

Patience may be running thin at the state and local agencies that work with and regulate the Navy base's physical plant. In addition to penalties for the Red Hill Spill, which released about 20,000 gallons of JP-5 into a water well, the Navy has been fined $8.7 million by Hawaii's Department of Health for "a myriad of deficiencies at the NAVFAC Hawaii Wastewater Treatment Plant near Pearl Harbor." The fine was assessed for an alleged 766 instances of discharging pollutants beyond permitted limits.