Kalaheo braces for long water shortage

KALAHEO — Barbara Inglis lives at the top of Maka Road in Kalaheo and says she has had a “trickle” of water coming from her faucet for a week.

As a result of the ongoing water outage and conservation advisory, Inglis has been forced to refrain from doing laundry. The seedlings in her garden are beginning to wither and die. Around 2 p.m. Friday, her faucet was bone dry. And while she has been abiding by the conservation measures, others in Kalaheo have not.

“I’ve talked to friends who live all over Kalaheo. Some of them have water in their house and they don’t feel they have to conserve,” she said. “Eventually, I would like to wash my clothes. And I haven’t been.” 

Inglis was one of nearly 200 community members who attended an informational meeting Saturday at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center, where Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and the DOW discussed the latest developments on the water outage.

Carvalho said he wasn’t going to hide anything about the extent of the situation, and that a full repair of the system would take six weeks — not less.

The county is currently utilizing local resources, but if there is a need to ask for outside assistance, Carvalho said he is prepared to do so.

“If I need to implore the National Guard, I will,” he said, drawing cheers from those in the room.

One of the people hit hardest by the outage, which resulted from not one but two broken well shafts, was Ron Horoshko, owner of Birdie’s Cafe at Kukuiolono Golf Course.

“We have no water,” he said. “Our employees are gone four to six weeks.”

Horoshko said the situation facing his business is “real tough,” with some employees questioning how they would be able to pay their bills. He asked whether the restaurant could expect any sort of relief from the county or if he would just have to wait it out. 

DOW Acting Manager Kirk Saiki said Horoshko would have to wait but that a temporary pipeline may soon provide some relief.

Aside from Birdie’s and the golf course, Saiki said “everyone should have some type of service,” although there will likely be times of low water pressure or even outages. 

The issues at the wells in Kalaheo started long before the May 24 emergency, which has affected approximately 1,600 customers.

“Our primary well went out of service at the end of January, and we were in the process of executing a contract to fix it, but then on Saturday night, our backup well went down,” DOW spokeswoman Kim Tamaoka wrote in an email.

When questioned about why it took so long to start the process of fixing the primary well, Saiki said the department was “dealing with contracting and bonding problems.”

One man said it seemed like DOW wasted four months and that the whole situation could have been avoided. Another asked Saiki about why the department wasn’t working harder to resolve the contracting dispute.

“In hindsight, yes, we could have probably pushed harder to get it done,” Saiki said.

Horoshko said it’s time for DOW to figure out a better backup plan so that a situation like this doesn’t happen again. But Saiki said the well that failed last week was the backup plan.

“In 30-plus years in the business, I’ve never had a backup fail until today,” he said.

While the lifespan of a pump is usually 10 to 15 years, the one in Kalaheo was only four years old. And although operators were monitoring performance indicators, they did not notice any significant changes prior to the failure.

Tamaoka said DOW is unsure how the main shaft was damaged because it was located 1,000 feet underground. Upon extracting the entire shaft Thursday afternoon, however, the department verified it had been sheered off near the very bottom.   

“The part that pumps the water was no longer connected to the motor,” Tamaoka wrote.

As for why the pumps didn’t last longer, Saiki said he didn’t have an answer.

“We’re investigating that,” he said.

With both Kalaheo wells out of service, there is no deep water source being pumped into the reservoirs, which has forced the DOW and Department of Public Works to manually deliver water to the Kalaheo storage tank. The DOW has also installed a temporary pipeline which it anticipates will provide supplemental water service to the area. 

“We are in the middle of disinfecting the pipe and testing to make sure the water quality is safe,” Tamaoka wrote. “With these temporary sources, we should provide some or better water pressure to the Kalaheo residents. However, until our two deep well sources are restored, we are unable to ensure sustainable water pressure.”

All in all, the fix won’t be cheap.

On Wednesday, the Board of Water approved the department’s request for $335,000. The money will not only be used to repair the damaged wells, but also fund the temporary pipeline, the line to bypass the pressure sustaining valve at the Kakela Makai tank, the portable water buffaloes and tankers, time for contractors and workers, community meetings and more, according to Tamaoka.

Kalaheo resident Edie Moe said she was not impacted by the water outage but has a lot of concerns about the timeline and why DOW didn’t work harder to fix the main pump back in January.

“I do not understand this business about the contractor not completing the contract,” she said. “There’s no excuse for that. Someone did not follow up.”

Steve Ruiz, who owns a quarter-acre farm in Kalaheo, said his main concern — and the reason he attended the meeting — was getting enough water over the next six weeks to keep his lettuce, radishes, cabbage and other crops alive. His solution, he said, will be to fill a 300-gallon tank on his property with water from another source and pump it to his crops.

The DOW is reminding Kalaheo residents to be prepared for possible intermittent low water pressure and outages, and to continue urgent water conservation measures in order to lessen the impact. Essential uses include cooking, bathing and toilet flushing. Critical water conservation measures include refraining from car washing, turning off automatic sprinklers and outdoor irrigation systems, and limiting laundry washing. 

The DOW has provided water buffaloes for essential uses, located before the entrance to Kukuiolono Park, and on Milia Street in Kakela Makai.

 

Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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