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Navy fuel leak prompts Honolulu plea for water conservation

March 11, 2022 GMT
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Rear Adm. John Korka, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and Chief of Civil Engineers, leads Navy and civilian water quality recovery experts through the tunnels of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Native Hawaiians who revere water in all its forms as the embodiment of a Hawaiian god say the Navy's acknowledgement that jet fuel leaked into Pearl Harbor's tap water has deepened the distrust they feel toward the U.S. military. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy via AP, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Rear Adm. John Korka, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and Chief of Civil Engineers, leads Navy and civilian water quality recovery experts through the tunnels of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Native Hawaiians who revere water in all its forms as the embodiment of a Hawaiian god say the Navy's acknowledgement that jet fuel leaked into Pearl Harbor's tap water has deepened the distrust they feel toward the U.S. military. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy via AP, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Rear Adm. John Korka, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and Chief of Civil Engineers, leads Navy and civilian water quality recovery experts through the tunnels of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Native Hawaiians who revere water in all its forms as the embodiment of a Hawaiian god say the Navy's acknowledgement that jet fuel leaked into Pearl Harbor's tap water has deepened the distrust they feel toward the U.S. military. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy via AP, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Rear Adm. John Korka, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and Chief of Civil Engineers, leads Navy and civilian water quality recovery experts through the tunnels of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Native Hawaiians who revere water in all its forms as the embodiment of a Hawaiian god say the Navy's acknowledgement that jet fuel leaked into Pearl Harbor's tap water has deepened the distrust they feel toward the U.S. military. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy via AP, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Rear Adm. John Korka, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and Chief of Civil Engineers, leads Navy and civilian water quality recovery experts through the tunnels of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Native Hawaiians who revere water in all its forms as the embodiment of a Hawaiian god say the Navy's acknowledgement that jet fuel leaked into Pearl Harbor's tap water has deepened the distrust they feel toward the U.S. military. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy via AP, File)

HONOLULU (AP) — Honolulu’s water utility on Thursday asked roughly 400,000 Oahu residents to voluntarily cut their water use by 10% because of concerns about dry weather and a petroleum leak from a massive Navy fuel storage facility that has forced it to shut down three wells.

Petroleum from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility hasn’t gotten into the tap water distributed by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply. But it did get into an aquifer that sits underneath the storage tanks.

As a result, the utility in December shut down three wells to prevent fuel from migrating through the aquifer into its water system. This means the utility doesn’t have its normal supply of water, said Ernie Lau, the utility’s chief engineer.

The conservation request affects residents and businesses in urban Honolulu.

Given recent dry weather, Lau said “it would be a great thing” if the rest of the island would also reduce their use by 10% even though the shutdown of the three wells doesn’t directly affect their water supply. The total population of Oahu is about 1 million.

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Petroleum did poison the Navy’s water system, however. In November, jet fuel from the facility leaked into a Navy well and into Navy tap water. That sickened nearly 6,000 people, mostly those living in military housing in and around Pearl Harbor.

The Defense Department said Monday it will permanently shut down the fuel tank facility and remove all of its fuel.

Honolulu’s water utility has been pumping its other wells longer and harder to make up for the lost supply, Lau said at a news conference.

Lau said the utility has to make sure it doesn’t excessively pump its wells because that would increase the saltiness of the water it pulls up from the aquifer. Higher salinity levels have already forced the the utility to reduce the amount it’s been pumping from some of its other wells.

“We want to manage it very carefully so that the aquifer itself and these wells still remain viable and available to supply our community,” Lau said.

Lau said he’s worried that demand will outstrip supply in the summer, which is expected to be even more dry. Some customers, particularly those living at higher elevations, could experience lower water pressure. Some customers might not have water for some periods of time if the utility’s storage tanks go dry, he said.

“And that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” Lau said.