Danny De Gracia: The Public Should Demand A Desalination Plant For Oahu - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

In speaking to the British Parliament in 1982, then-President Ronald Reagan told the story of an elderly woman whose house was bombed by the Nazis in WWII. Trapped in the house during the attack, the woman was later saved by rescuers who tried to comfort her using a bottle of brandy they’d found in the wreckage of her home. “Put it back,” the disheveled woman would tell the rescuers. “That’s for emergencies.”

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Reagan’s anecdote was aimed at encouraging the governments of the West to recognize they shouldn’t hesitate in using what resources they had on hand, but it had the added humor of reminding people of the basic fact that if you’re thirsty, then drink something already!

Here in Hawaii, the fallout of the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill fuel storage bunker crisis has long-term implications for the availability of water both for human consumption and development here on Oahu. It has been suggested that things may be so dire that we might even have to drill for new, future sources of water and even that is no guarantee of water. Worse yet, in the short term, we are walking a tightrope when it comes to the availability of water during a drought.

But why does it have to be this way for Oahu? Even though every sailor knows never to drink saltwater no matter how thirsty they are, modern desalination technology allows ships at sea to process ocean water into safe drinking water. Oahu is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, so there is absolutely no reason why, if we are all collectively thirsty, that we can’t take a drink with desalination facilities supplementing our freshwater supply.

The Board of Water Supply has already entertained this concept in the past, but I would like to remind our congressional delegation that the U.S. Navy has the ability right now to provide desalination services for Oahu, and it wouldn’t take five to seven years to get that water in our glasses or in our homes.

How would something like this work? The technology already exists for the installation of floating desalination plants either on ships or temporary platforms as a quick way to get fresh water supplied to populations either affected by drought or humanitarian disaster.

Saudi Arabia, which has experimented with everything ranging from coastal desalination plants, to floating desalination platforms, to even proposals of cutting icebergs with lasers and towing them back to the Persian Gulf, has known for years that desalination is a quick and easy way to get freshwater.

Saudi Arabia’s most recent desalination project was a barge that provided as much as 6 million gallons of drinking water per day while they waited for construction of a permanent desalination plant. By comparison, previous proposals for shore-based desalination on Oahu were estimated to produce between 1.7 to 5 MGD of water.

The fallout of the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill fuel storage bunker crisis has long-term implications for the availability of water. Provided to Civil Beat

A barge or ship can anchor a safe distance from the shoreline, deploy a tube that rests on the ocean floor, and suck in seawater that is then processed, purified of any hazardous chemicals, desalinated, and then pumped back to the shore as clean water. Even a small fleet of existing ships, such as those that are mothballed or in reserve, can be converted into desalination platforms, which could produce a substantial amount of water in the same fashion. This proposal was also suggested for the residents of Southern California, where Navy ships could help provide water by pumping it to the shoreline from either warships or contracted vessels.

The point of all this is to say that if we are really serious about the future of Oahu’s water supply, the county, the state and the federal government can all mobilize quickly to provide a solution for us, right now. The Red Hill problem is more than an ecological accident; it is a humanitarian disaster, and in developing countries around the world, our military has deployed quick solutions to help people in weeks or even months, rather than years.

If our local government was restless and innovative enough, they could pressure President Joe Biden to make good on his promise to remedy the Red Hill crisis by helping to provide desalination capabilities to Hawaii. Have the president classify water production on Oahu as a “BRICK BAT-01” priority – something the Navy’s submarine force is well-acquainted with, as it is the highest level of Department of Defense procurement priorities – which could fast track the construction of both shore-based and offshore desalination facilities, as well as the repair of existing Oahu water production.

The Navy has a responsibility to the people of Oahu to deliver clean drinking water because of its Red Hill disaster, and the Navy can play an important role in modernizing and enhancing the water production capability of our island. Companies like Marine Water Production AS, which already have bold plans for desalination barges, could easily help on a project like this to save Oahu’s people. Or, the Navy could even use their military engineers to quickly build desalination facilities for us.

Think about it. We’re surrounded by water on Oahu; we’re just not surrounded by proactive government. The Navy has helped people in countries around the world when called to act in times of humanitarian crises. Now it’s time to do the same thing, for our people, here at home.

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

Agree, the government should be looking at all alternatives, however, I have heard the process is not only energy sapping, but leaves waste products, I would imagine other than salt, which must be processed. On the other hand, if someone could finally get OTEC going, which would actually create electricity and bring up deep, cold sea water in the process, it could be a wining combination. It should be looked into further.

wailani1961 · 8 months ago

This is from the Board of Water Website:" The BWS has acquired lands for the Kapolei brackish and Kalaeloa seawater desalination plants and has conducted pilot testing of ultra filtration and reverse osmosis membranes at both sites. The desalination plants are feasible, but are on hold because water conservation efforts have extended Oahu's groundwater supplies."It should be noted that "desalination" is not a license to cement every inch of Oahu. Desalination is costly and will contribute to rising costs of something as basic as water.

ChoonJamesHI · 8 months ago

I'll drink to that!

Sun_Duck · 8 months ago

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