A Fuel Leak From a Navy Facility Could Shut Down All New Development on Hawaii’s Most Populous Island

All construction could be stopped on Hawaii’s largest island, Hawaii.

Water officials from Oahu are trying to stop a fuel spillage from Red Hill, the 80-year old underground fuel storage facility of the U.S Navy. This fuel leak is affecting the freshwater supply aquifer.

The fear of contaminating water in the aquifer has forced the Honolulu Board of Water Supply to shut down wells near the Red Hill facility. The Halawa well is responsible for 20 percent metro Honolulu’s water.

A combination of a drought-related closure and the closing of wells has caused a shortage of water on the island. BWS is therefore considering increasing conservation efforts.

BWS asked Oahu residents since March 10 to reduce their water consumption by 10%. This was first reported by The Associated Press at a briefing for Hawaii senators. Honolulu Civil Beat, BWS also described an increasing number of conservation measures that include the closing of public swimming pools and a moratorium on development.

The Civil Beat According to reports, BWS is already sending out letters to developers to inform them they are unable to guarantee approval for applications for larger or new water meters within the next few months.

Barry Usagawa, BWS’s director of operations and finance, spoke at Monday’s briefing to discuss other limitations the board might impose on new construction. These could be a requirement for developers to capture stormwater or recycle greywater.

A development moratorium is a concern for an island or state which already has the worst housing cost in the country.

According to Apartment List data, urban Honolulu’s rents are the second highest in the nation, after Ventura in California. Zillow ranks Honolulu as the 9th most costly rental market. It’s no cheap area to rent an apartment. Oahu’s median home value is $1.1million.

Alternate options to this rationing include allowing water prices to increase on Oahu in response to the island’s declining water supply. Businesses and residents would have more freedom to decide how they will cope with the reduced water supply if prices were higher. Decentralized decision-making could do a better task of limiting frivolous water usage while still maintaining critical functions.

Honolulu County Charter prohibits you from letting water prices work in crisis. The BWS has a nearly unlimited ability to take water conservation measures when there is a severe shortage. Public consultations and hearings are required before anyone can raise water rates. BWS has the authority to impose penalties on those who violate water restrictions.

But, just like groundwater. Markets eventually leak into everything. Although Honolulu restricts the impact that prices have on rationing water, there is no denying the reality of a rising cost of living in Honolulu. BWS will continue to enforce a moratorium on development, which could lead to higher home and rent prices.

This story’s main villain is clearly the Navy and more generally the federal government. The Navy has kept Red Hill’s fueling station open for many years, despite growing criticisms from environmentalists and water officials.

After the leak at Red Hill, local authorities tried closing it down. The U.S. Department of Justice sued in order to maintain its operation. It reversed its decision earlier this month and stated that it will work to “defuel the facility”. This will likely take some time. BWS currently has desalination plants and wells in development to improve supply. But those projects could take several years.

The price of water will be increased to compensate for the shortage, but this would limit consumption until there is more available.