Department of Water Supply Apologizes …questions remain

July 20, 2017
6pm   -   8pm
West Hawai'i Civic Center, Council Chambers

“the current conditions are critical and we need to act now to prevent a potential catastrophe.”

State Senator Josh Green

“Vital infrastructure that is poorly administered is a public hazard. When it’s our water system, that hazard is not to be taken lightly.”  

West Hawaii Today, Editorial, July 20th.


Due to the emergency nature of the current and prolonged water restrictions in North Kona and the greater Kona area, we have scheduled this special forum event during the normal West Hawaii Forum series summer break of July-August.  We will examine the seriousness of an ongoing water emergency and corresponding water restrictions impacting the Kona area.

Water Restrctions signSince January 2017, when equipment failures at four separate area well sites required the Department of Water Supply (DWS) to declare a water emergency and implement area water restrictions, things just seem to go from bad to worse. By March, the West Hawaii Today reported..“Water restriction in North Kona expected to continue indefinitely”… 

Most recently, in June, and with an increased sense of urgency, Hawaii County officials reiterated earlier DWS requests calling for customers in North Kona to reduce water usage due to ongoing repairs of four different wells or face water service disruptions.

By late June, the Department of Water Supply continued repeating their message that a mandatory 25 percent water restriction remains in effect.   DWS added, however, … “monitoring over the past several months indicates little to no change in water usage. It is extremely urgent that all customers reduce their water use by 25% to ensure continued water service to all customers in the Kona community, your help is needed. Please do your part”.

The water emergency became a crisis when on June 29th a fifth (5th) well serving the Kona area failed.

The failure of a fifth well in the same area where four other wells are already out-of-service put customers from Keauhou to Kona Airport and Honalo to Makalei in a near-dire situation.  Repairs on the fifth source, the Keahuolū well, could take a week and a half to fix, water officials say.  DWS has since established  temporary and emergency Public Potable Water Distribution Stations on Ane Keohokalole Highway between the West Hawaii Civic Center and Kealakehe High School, as well as on Hina Lani between Anini St. and Manu Mele St.

Residents in the affected area must restrict water use to health and safety needs of drinking, cooking, and sanitation only. The Department of Water Supply says it is monitoring water usage and wasteful water use will be subject to further water restrictions and possible water shutoff.

This is a Department of Water Supply Water Restriction update for Wednesday, July 5, at 4:00 p.m:
The Department’s Keahuolū Deepwell, which was out of service since last Thursday causing the emergency restriction and limiting water usage to health and safety needs only, has now been repaired and is operational. Because four (4) wells are still being repaired, you are reminded that the mandatory water restriction is still in effect for the North Kona area.  This means everyone must continue to reduce their normal usage by 25 percent.

During this forum expect officials from DWS explained the how and why of the current water emergency.

Event photo1

And, with the help of our community forum audience, we discovered why the agency was not better prepared for critical equipment failures and service disruptions, why it will take nearly an entire year to fully restore water service to the Kona area, and the lessons learned from this experience and prevention plans to avoid potential future service disruptions and impaired operations.

One of the several factors that makes Hawai’i Island, and West Hawai’i specifically, stand apart from other water municipalities are the depth of its of water wells. The municipal average water well may be from 50 to 200 feet deep. The wells serving the Kona area reach depths of over 1,500 feet deep, presenting a host of unique operating and maintenance challenges problems for DWS (see the DWS presentation for details).

When DWS system repairs are required, custom parts must first be manufactured, tested, and finally shipped from the mainland to Hawai’i, adding months to an already unacceptable repair time cycle.  In the forum video (see below for on-demand viewing details), we learn what DWS is doing to improve its water service operating reliability, and address repairs in what can best be described as “lessons learned” for the Department of Water Supply.

In DWS’s own words…“A hiccup in power supply taking even one well offline for as little as a few hours could cause a dramatic drop in tank levels and prove the impetus for drastic changes in water availability.”

The seriousness of the current and continuing Kona area water emergency cannot be emphasized enough.

This forum took place on July 20, 2017, at 6pm at West Hawai'i Civic Center, Council Chambers.

To learn more about each Forum featured speaker, click onto the presenter's name listed below their picture.

This event was moderated by:

SherryBracken-3Sherry Bracken
Mahalo Multimedia
bill-bugbee-west-hawaiiBill Bugbee
Community Forums

The event's featured speakers were:

Keith picKeith Okamoto
Department of Water Supply
Kawika picKawika Uyehara
Department of Water Supply
Kurt picKurt Inaba
Department of Water Supply
Clyde Young-picClyde Young
Department of Water Supply
Mayor KimMayor Harry Kim
Mayor of Hawai'i County

Speaker Presentation Materials

The presenters have graciously allowed us to post their presentation notes.

Subject Support Materials

Please see support material for this subject Forum.

Ask the Presenters a Question

The following contains online Questions posed to this Forum's Presenters and the Answers they provided.

Web Submitted DWS Questions –

Department of Water Supply Apologizes …questions remain   July 20th 2017 FORUM


July 6th website submitted Forum Question
Who are the top 10 consumers of Water from Kona’s 13 Wells and what is their daily consumption level?     Example: County of Hawaii – Kealakehe WWTP – xmgd , HELCO Keahole Generating Station – xmgd


July 10th website submitted Forum Question

  1. 1- What are the systemic (both mechanical and bureaucratic) issues that led to these concurrent failures and how is the Water Company addressing those issues to assure we’re never subject to an outage of this proportion ever again?

July 13th website submitted Forum Questions

  1. Are the well  pumps submersible’s? If so why? Above ground turbines have the motors above ground which is usually the first to fail.
  2. Do the pumps have parts interchangeability for standardization? If not why? How many are similar?
  3. Do the larger production wells have backup power? How many? If not why?
  4. Do you have pre bid on-call contacts in place for outside contractors so there is no delay when needed? If not why?
  5. Why aren’t key well parts on the island?
  6. Why warranties aren’t negotiated to start when the parts go into service being — we are on an island? Do you reorder when the parts are used?
  7. Who is the pump vendor or vendors?
  8. What are the plans to not let this ever happen again so you protect public health and safety?
  9. Efficiency – Why haven’t you started a water rebate program, low flow 1.28 gallon toilets, showerheads, aerators, low water use clothes washers? Smart Irrigation Controllers. If these were installed in a few hundred homes it would save thousands of gallons of water per day! You can’t drill your way out of a drought!

July 18th website  submitted Forum Questions

10.          Can they design a pump that will work in more than one well, even if it is slightly less efficient?

11.            Can they configure a pump for a deep well that can be reassembled into one for a less deep well?

12.   Can they order a pump for future delivery to tie down a slot in the production schedule?

13.  Can they negotiate a warranty that starts when the pump is installed, or when the sealed package is opened?

14.  What role did HELCO’s power supply play in the nearly simultaneous failure of four pump stations last January?

July 19th website  submitted Forum Questions

15.  Questions directed to Keith Okamoto:

Was the June 29th failure of the Keahuolo deepwell thrust bearing determined to be:       1) a simple premature parts failure or 2) was it a common and preventable operational fault caused by water hammer or 3) failed check valve or reverse load damage from a power failure (HELCO had an outage 6/28/17) or 4) up-thrust condition from operating the pump over the rated capacity??

16.  Why wasn’t DWS better prepared for failures after the lessons they should have learned from the 2012 failures of the Ke’ei Well D and Queen Liliuokalani Trust well, which caused water restrictions?


July 20th website  submitted Forum Questions

17.  Question for Keith Okamoto:

With parts and materials for the Palani, Hualalai and Keoup wells due in August, why is the quickest repair expected in November?

18.  For Mayor Kim:

Do you think North Kona residents are “wasting water” by maintaining landscaping?

19.  Question for Keith Okamoto:

Are the DWS water systems in compliance with the National Board of Fire Underwriters guidelines for fire-fighting storage and “Emergency water in storage” which are formulated to protect the community in exceptional events such as breakdown of pumps or main pipes?

20.  Has DWS checked into the availability of a USDA Rual Development “Emergency Community Water Assistant Grant” ?

*This survey will expire on 19 Aug 2017.