Running Water is Running Out


Interior view of Red Hill’s Bulk Storage tanks courtesy of Honolulu Civil Beat

Ruimin Lin, Staff Writer

Under Red Hill facility lies 20 fuel tanks, just 100 feet above a groundwater aquifer that supplies fresh water from the Moanalua to the Hawaii Kai area. The tanks have been leaking gfuel since 1943 (near when it was first constructed), and recorded at least 73 fuel leaks since the construction, totaling 180,000 gallons, according to the Sierra Club, an environmental organization.

The last fuel spill in late November contaminated the water system that services the nearby military housing area. The contamination forced some Moanalua High School students and their families to temporarily live in hotels, disrupting their daily life routine and academics.

“I didn’t realize how much we use water” senior Zachary Matelski said. “I cook a lot so it’s hard not having the water for that,” he said. “We’ve been living in hotels for the past six weeks, and we think we’re going to be there for two more weeks.”

Fortunately enough for Matelski, traveling between school and their hotel has not affected his academics. However, that is not the case for some students.

“I think that living in the hotels definitely changed my study schedule. I have to kind of plan out my day a lot differently,” senior Stephanie Bittle said.

There has been progress made to the Red Hill water crisis.The Department of Health (DOH) issued the Navy an emergency order on December 6. According to the order, the Navy must immediately suspend operations and install drinking water treatment systems. The Navy agreed to comply Jan. 11.
“The Navy caused this problem,” Blake Converse, rear admiral of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said at a US House of Representatives Armed Service subcommittee meeting days earlier, according to ABC News. “We own it. And we’re going to fix it.”
Within thirty days of the release of this order, the Navy must submit a work plan and schedule to assess the system integrity to safely defuel the Bulk Storage Tanks. Within thirty days of completing the previous item and making any corrections to the work plan and schedule, the Navy must remove the fuel. Within thirty days of receiving the order, the Navy must submit a work plan and implementation schedule made by an independent third party approved by the DOH to assess the operations and system integrity of the facility.

“I feel good about the whole of them [The Navy] having to drain the Red Hill thing because it helps the local ecosystem and also just the island as a whole,” Matelski said. “We could end up polluting the whole island which would be horrible.”

The full emergency order can be accessed through this link. The emergency order was final and enforceable after a hearing on January 7 at 1:00 pm where the DOH upheld their order: The Navy must drain their fuel tanks. The Navy’s compliance with this emergency order is the beginning steps of making tap water safe for the community to use again.