Climate change and the U.S. Navy-caused water crisis that led to three major wells shuttering in Honolulu—possibly forever—have led to a drastic reduction in water production in Oahu. Our changing planet has made conditions drier across the state of Hawaii, and a winter drought combined with the Red Hill fuel tank leak has Oahu’s Board of Water Supply concerned that it won’t be able to meet the demands of its residents. Already, the board has asked for a 10% reduction in water consumption per household and is reaching out to major sectors like hospitality, medical, and government to urge conservation. It bears being said that, if you’re considering vacationing to Honolulu, now is definitely not the time to put the strain on any already stressed community just trying to get its needs met.
They were once able to when the three wells that the Navy may have single-handedly eliminated were fully functioning. The Aiea-Halawa area alone received one-half of its water from the wells, while metro Honolulu received 20% of its water from them. The 2021 Red Hill fuel tank leak sent 19,000 gallons of fuel into that water supply, sickening residents, temporarily shuttering businesses, and forcing residents from their homes due to lack of clean water. According to activists, numerous residents are still grappling with the fallout and understandably wary of the quality of water flowing into their homes, if they’ve been able to return at all. Though the Hawaii Department of Health says that overall contamination is decreasing, there is still much to be done to mitigate this disaster and even more to be done when it comes to environmental justice.
The Navy is sending up to 5 million gallons of water through a filtration system then into the Halawa Stream per day and finally has plans to defuel the World War II-era fuel farm that sits just 100 feet above a major aquifer, but it didn’t arrive at these solutions without fighting them every step of the way. Only recently did the Navy drop two appeals over the Hawaii Health Department’s emergency order to defuel the tanks, following a ruling against the military earlier this month. Oahu’s access to clean water may never be the same again no matter what happens to the Red Hill facility. And efforts to expand water production, such as the Board of Water Supply’s plans to dig up six exploratory wells, could take up to seven years before reaching completion.
A majority of Hawaiians have been in favor of shuttering the Red Hill fuel tanks and there is a growing movement to demilitarize the entire state that has only gotten stronger. This isn’t the first time the community has come together in the wake of the Navy’s negligence, either. “It was the 2014 spill that really woke up a lot of people, and it was the first time that we saw information about the tanks really,” University of Hawaii professor and demilitarization activist Kyle Kajihiro told the Honolulu Civil-Beat. The 2014 spill saw 27,000 gallons of fuel leak from the same tanks that contaminated the water supply last year. At the time, Kajihiro called Red Hill a “disaster waiting to happen.” He was sadly proven right. Board of Water officials are hoping that conservation requests don’t lead to mandates that put the financial burden on consumers.