BWS wants Navy to dig more Red Hill monitoring wells

Published On: Apr 23 2014 07:24:54 PM HST   Updated On: Apr 23 2014 08:46:48 PM HST

Recent and past fuel spills from the U.S. Navy's Red Hill underground storage facility in Halawa are prompting the Board of Water Supply to request additional groundwater monitoring wells near the 70-year-old facility.

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"There need to be additional monitor wells, holes in the ground to the water table and ongoing testing on an ongoing basis to determine if they're picking up any petroleum hydrocarbon contaminants, either to the north or to the south of their facility," Ernest Lau, BWS manager and chief engineer, told members of the Honolulu City Council Wednesday.

In January the Navy said 27,000 gallons of JP-8 jet fuel had spilled from tank No. 5, one of 20 tanks at Red Hill that stand 250 feet tall and can hold 12.5 million gallons each of petroleum products. But during a legislative briefing last month, the Navy told state lawmakers as much as 1.2 million gallons of fuel may have spilled from Red Hill since construction ended in 1943. Although some of the spills were reported to the Hawaii Department of Health, they were largely kept out of the public eye.

"I'm really disappointed to find out that these spills have been occurring in the past and no one knew about it," said councilman Breene Harimoto, who represents residents living near the storage tanks.

From 2005 to 2009 the Navy built five groundwater monitoring wells to gauge fuel contamination near the Red Hill Shaft, which supplies water to Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam. In February DOH announced low levels of lead and other chemicals were found in the water system for the military base, but so far contaminants have not exceeded acceptable levels.

However, the Board of Water Supply is concerned about groundwater flowing to the northwest and south of Red Hill, which could bring contaminants toward the Halawa Shaft and Moanalua Wells. Both water sources supply 25 percent of the drinking water for metro Honolulu.

On Feb. 21 Lau wrote a letter to Rear Adm. Richard Williams Jr., the commander of Navy Region Hawaii, asking for more monitoring wells near critical BWS water sources and the removal of hydrocarbon contamination currently affecting the site. Lau has yet to receive a response.

This week state lawmakers are poised to pass a concurrent resolution (SCR 73 HD 1) that creates a task force to study the situation at Red Hill and demands the Navy take action. Rep. Mark Takai, of Aiea, told KITV4 there's growing consensus that efforts to clean up past spills will have to take place.

"I think it's going to take some significant amounts of funds to shore up the remediation efforts ... whether it's a groundwater purification system or whatnot," said Takai.

During Tuesday's briefing before the City Council's Public Works and Sustainability Committee, Harimoto announced he's working on a resolution of his own that's aimed squarely at the Navy.

"I'm disappointed in their response," said Harimoto. "This potentially could contaminate our entire drinking water and I think for that, I would expect very swift action."

Meanwhile, BWS is also concerned about the potential of a catastrophic release from Red Hill. According to Lau, 15 of the 20 underground tanks are currently in operation, which means as much as 187.5 million gallons of petroleum products are being stored at Halawa.

Lau said a magnitude 4.6 earthquake in 1948 resulted in 1,100 barrels of fuel being released from one of the tanks at Red Hill, or about 46,000 gallons.


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