State and federal regulators have signed off on a plan for the Navy to remove the fuel contamination from its Red Hill well in Honolulu, including pumping water from the well, treating it and discharging it into the Halawa stream, officials announced on Thursday.

Up to five million gallons of water will be pumped from the Red Hill shaft every day to create “a capture zone” in the aquifer, the Interagency Drinking Water System Team said in a press release. Skimming pumps, booms and absorbent pads will also be deployed within the well to remove contaminants. 

Sailors assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 1, monitor a camera’s descent into the Red Hill Well as a boom designed to prevent contaminants from potentially entering the pump system at the Red Hill well is deployed as part of well recovery efforts.
The Navy is working to contain and remove the fuel contamination in its well. U.S. Navy/2022

The pumped water will then run through a granular activated carbon filtration system, where the team said it will be monitored and tested before being released into the stream. The goal of the filtration is to ensure the discharge meets standards set by the Hawaii Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act. 

“GAC filtration is a proven technology used to remove organic chemicals, such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from water,” the team said.

The 224-page plan was developed by the interagency team, which is made up of DOH, the EPA, the Army and the Navy. The team also received input from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the University of Hawaii and other community stakeholders, according to the press release. 

DOH approved a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the operation. 

The decontamination plan was developed after the Navy confirmed last month that fuel from its 80-year-old Red Hill fuel facility had contaminated the water source for some 93,000 people in and around Pearl Harbor. The Navy’s discharge permit takes effect immediately and expires in July 2023.

Navy caption: Modular Carbon Adsorption Systems sit outside the 60th Aerial Port Squadron warehouse in preparation to be loaded onto a K loader Dec. 15, 2021, at Travis Air Force Base, California. The Modular Carbon Adsorption Systems are destined for Red Hill, Hawaii, as part of the U.S. Transportation Command Red Hill water movement.
The contaminated water will be run through filtration systems like this before being discharged into the stream. U.S. Navy/2021

The permit requires water to be sampled and tested every step of the way and operators will use field monitoring devices to screen for contaminants in real time, according to the team.

“The Navy will also send samples to a certified laboratory for testing,” the team said. “If contaminant levels exceed DOH’s acceptable limits at any point, operations will be stopped.” 

Under the plan, the Navy has committed to reuse the treated water and undertake projects to “improve the upper watershed and recharge the aquifer,” the team said. 

Council Calls On Biden For Shutdown

Meanwhile, the Navy says it is complying with a DOH order to ultimately drain its fuel facility. However, that process could take months, if not longer, and some community members are calling for the immediate and permanent shutdown of the World War II-era tank farm.

On Thursday, Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters and Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina wrote a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to direct the Navy to permanently remove the facility and the petroleum it holds. Doing so would start to repair the “broken trust” within the community, Waters and Kiaaina wrote.

Honolulu City Council chair person Tommy Waters quotes his friend Billy Kenoi during session today.
Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters co-authored a letter to the president with Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The council members said that they believe the Navy’s mishandling of the crisis is jeopardizing national security interests and the overall relationship between the military and the people of Hawaii. The people of Hawaii, including Native Hawaiians, have for years demanded better stewardship of the land by the military, they wrote.

“In spite of the various environmental, legal and cultural struggles over time, the State of Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu have historically supported the United States military’s strategic positions and assets in our communities for decades,” they wrote. “This support, however, is not unconditional.”

They listed several properties, including training facilities, that the military would like to expand but may be threatened by a lack of community support if trust is not restored.

“Again, we urge you to direct the U.S. Navy to protect our fresh water resources on the island of Oahu by permanently removing the aging Red Hill Facility,” they wrote.

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