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Fourth rupture in Navy’s water system means more delays for 93,000 users

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam/Facebook)

The Navy is urging residents “out of abundance of caution ” to boil their water even though “our latest water samples are all negative ” for bacteria, said Navy Capt. Mark D. Sohaney, commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The Navy announced it would further delay removing fuel from its three pipelines at Red Hill after a fourth main in its water system was reported to have broken Monday morning, reducing water access for some 93, 000 people connected to the system.

“They’ve postponed their unpacking operations, ” said Navy Capt. Mark D. Sohaney, commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, at a midday news conference. Once the water is restored, Sohaney said, “I would anticipate they would notify the public on when they’re going to resume those unpacking operations.”

Before the first main break occurred Friday, the Navy had planned to begin draining approximately 1 million gallons of fuel from its Red Hill pipes on Monday. The fuel has sat in the pipelines since operations at the facility near Pearl Harbor were halted in 2021 when fuel from Red Hill contaminated the Navy’s drinking water system. Removing it will allow the Navy to begin pipeline repairs in preparation for draining about 100 million gallons from its underground tanks and permanently closing the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Facility.

Repairs needed on the water mains are expected to be underway for at least a week, Sohaney said. Meanwhile, the Navy is urging residents “out of abundance of caution ” to boil their water even though “our latest water samples are all negative ” for bacteria, Sohaney said.

After the first break—in a 36-inch main at the Waiau Hawaiian Electric power station—a second one followed, Sohaney said, but it was “unrelated ” and “due to a vehicular accident near the Navy Exchange.”

In response, the Navy diverted water around the first break. Then another water main broke at West Loch, and the fourth followed Monday on Pearl City Peninsula, flooding the yards of nearby homes. “When you divert this much water around to lower-diameter piping, you expect some type of breakage, ” Sohaney said.

Noting that the first water main to break was constructed in 1951, Sohaney said, “It’s just like any municipality. We’ve got old structure, new infrastructure. … Things like this happen.”

The Navy is now distributing about 20, 000 gallons of water a day, but people are limited to one gallon per day.

For military personnel and others, picking up gallons of drinking water at military distribution sites serves as a reminder of the Red Hill water crisis. In November, residents living in neighborhoods around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam began complaining of nausea, vomiting and skin rashes, as well as fuel smells coming from their faucets and sprinklers. Days later, water samples and a visual inspection of the Red Hill shaft found it was polluted with jet fuel.

“This most recent water issue definitely echoes a lot of the stuff that was going on back in November with the original water issue, ” said Jeanina Powell, a base resident on Ford Island whose husband is in the Navy. Powell said she suffered neurological symptoms and daily headaches in the aftermath of the contamination.

“We definitely do not feel safe, and we definitely don’t believe anything the Navy is saying ” about the water being safe to wash dishes and shower in, Powell said. “We’ve heard that all before, ” she said.

Powell said while she had to shower Monday, “It doesn’t feel great having to step in water that is not safe.” The Red Hill crisis prompted her to install a filter on the shower head. Still, she said, “It seemed about normal, but I really tried to get in and out of there as fast as I could.”

Moving forward, Powell isn’t sure how much she can trust the Navy to tell the full story of what happened. “I would love for them to be forthcoming about what’s causing all these main breaks, ” Powell said. “I just feel like they’re not being truthful with us. One break, two breaks—sure, that’s a coincidence. But four or five ? A lot of us are wondering what’s really going on, ” she said.

During a livestreamed virtual town hall held Sunday, Sohaney said the first break was most concerning, describing it as a crack along the entire edge of a 20-foot cast iron pipe.

Monday’s main break resulted in flooding in a park commonly frequented by dogs, thereby ferrying their excrement toward nearby homes, residents said.

“Logs !” said Michael Washington, a petty officer in the Navy. His house is situated downstream, and an inch of water flooded his garage. To stop it, he threw down a rolled carpet that got soaked. The damage appears to be nothing major, compared with the fact that he hasn’t used his water since Red Hill, Washington said. “I’d rather be able to use the water, ” he said.

Sheri LeDue lives in Kapilina Beach Homes, a civilian development on Iroquois Point that was once Navy housing and remains connected to the Navy’s water system. Before she heard any announcement, LeDue took a shower Friday morning. “I got a little bit of a rash, ” she said.

Now she has just enough water pressure to fill up a pan, “but it takes a while, ” she said. She has been boiling water to do dishes, but she won’t drink or cook with it—she hasn’t since December.

Her daughter and her family live on Schofield Barracks grounds, and during 2021’s water crisis LeDue would do laundry and shower at the Army base. She has now resumed the old routine. “It’s bringing back all of the nightmare from the Red Hill disaster, ” LeDue said. “Living should be so much easier.”

In a recent report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it had found that the Navy might have violated multiple federal and state laws pertaining to safe drinking water in its maintenance and operation of the Pearl Harbor water system.

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam started relying entirely on its Waiawa shaft for its water supply in December, following the precautionary closure of the Aiea Halawa shaft after the Red Hill shaft’s contamination. JBPHH was pumping 17 to 18 million gallons a day from the Waiawa shaft, despite only being permitted to pump 14.7 MGD, the EPA said. The Waiawa pump shaft was rusted, the EPA found. Inspectors also “observed significant rust and pitting on piping, ” the report said.


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