The military said water in the area remained safe to use but warned another discharge may occur as ocean conditions persist.

For the second day in a row, the wastewater treatment plant at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam discharged thousands of gallons of partially treated wastewater into the ocean, the military said Tuesday. 

At around 6 p.m. on Monday, approximately 5,000 gallons of wastewater that had only undergone three out of four steps of the treatment process flowed into the ocean about 1.5 miles from shore, said Charles Anthony, the director of public affairs for the base. 

A king tide caused more water than average to flow through the facility, exceeding its capacity, he said.

Water surrounding Pearl Harbor remained safe for recreational use after the releases on Sunday and Monday, according to the military. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat)

The wastewater was discharged through the plant’s outfall, which stretches 1.5 miles from shore and into a 150-foot deep diffuser where it was mixed with ocean currents, the military said in a press release. 

On Sunday night, around 9,500 gallons of partially treated wastewater were released into Mamala Bay after a pump failure at the plant, the military said on Monday.

On both occasions, the wastewater bypassed the sand filtration stage of the treatment process, Anthony said in an interview. Wastewater at the plant is usually treated by four steps consisting of clarifiers, an activated sludge process, sand filtration and ultraviolet disinfection.

Ongoing plant modifications also impacted its capacity to handle higher than normal flow rates, according to the military.

The water surrounding the base remained safe for recreational use, Anthony said, adding that officials were working on ways to improve the plant’s capacity to handle higher-than-average flows. Strategies include diverting wastewater into extra empty tanks when high tides are predicted. 

Meanwhile, more partially treated wastewater could be released into the bay Tuesday night because of a reocurring king tide, Anthony said.

In September, the health department fined the Navy $8.7 million after it found hundreds of violations at the wastewater treatment plant. Officials said there had been “repeated discharges of untreated or partially treated sewage to state waters” because of a “myriad of deficiencies” at the plant. 

The health department ordered the Navy to complete a series of corrective actions, including repairing its ultraviolet disinfection system and conducting a root cause analysis for some of its pump failures. 

The Hawaii Department of Health said in a statement Tuesday that its Clean Water Branch was still awaiting sampling results from the releases of wastewater on Sunday and Monday, which were to be sent by the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command that runs the treatment facility.

The military has faced intensified criticism in Hawaii after a series of problems, including a massive oil leak at its World War II-era fuel storage facility at Red Hill in 2021 that contaminated the water of some 93,000 people on the Navy’s water system.

Environmental advocate Steve Holmes, who served on the Honolulu City Council from 1990-2002, called issues at the military plant a “recurring theme.”

The City and County of Honolulu also has two wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into Mamala Bay and both are under a federal consent decree to meet federal minimum standards. So while the Navy facility isn’t the only one that needs improvements, the military could lead by example, he said.

“It’s just shameless,” he said. “It’s just not good stewardship, and we expect better of our military.”

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