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.

Audience photo finalThe 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 discover 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:

Sherry Bracken
Hawaii Public Radio & New West Broadcasting
Bill Bugbee
Community Forums

The event's featured speakers were:

Keith Okamoto
Department of Water Supply
Kawika Uyehara
Department of Water Supply
Kurt Inaba
Department of Water Supply
Clyde Young
Department of Water Supply
Mayor 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.

Forum Session Video

View the recorded session here:

Ask the Presenters a Question

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


Community Questions for DWS Officials and their post forum answers. See the forum video for additional information and details… 


  1. Who are the top 10 consumers of water from Kona’s 13 wells and what is their daily consumption level?

The top 10 users are made up of State entities, hotels, multi-family (condos and apartments) and commercial.

Based on average of billings in 2017:

5 accts exceed 100K gpd – cumulative = 1.04 MGD

5 accts > 50K, < 100K gpd – cumulative = 0.34 MGD

  1. 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?

When Ke’ei Well D failed, we starting using Ke’ei Wells A & C.  No water restriction at that time.  When Queen Liliuokalani Trust (aka Keahuolu) well went down in May of 2012, the well was down for about 2 weeks.  It was repaired using a spare pump and motor.  No water restriction at that time.

  1. Are the well pumps submersible? If so, why? Above ground turbines have the motors above ground which is usually the first to fail.

Yes, the well pumps are submersible due to their depth.  Line shaft pump applications typically are used in depths less than 1000 feet.  This is due to shaft and bearing stresses due to imperfections in the plumbness and alignment of the well.  Another challenge is ensuring adequate lubrication for all the lineshaft bearings.  As the wells get deeper, this becomes problematic.

  1. What are the systematic (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?

DWS would like to clarify that the 4 wells did not go down at the same time.  Rather, the situation of 4 wells being out of service concurrently is primarily due to the length of time it takes for a well repair project.  This time duration is largely due to the length of time required to manufacture a pump and motor.  These units are not stocked and manufacturing begins when a specific order is made.  For a pump, basis of design and manufacture are flow, head (pressure) and efficiency which are site specific.  For a motor, basis of design is horsepower and voltage.  Manufacturing times for these pumps and motors are 4 to 6 months.

DWS intends to better standardize pump and motor capacities for future wells as well as utilizing an approach of installing 2 lower capacity wells instead of a single large capacity unit.  We are considering a maximum of 400hp and/or 700gpm capacity and minimum casing diameters of 16” or 18”.  The intent is to achieve improved longevity due to lower stresses as well as opportunity for more pump/motor availability.

DWS is in the process of procuring additional spare pump and motor sets as well.

  1. Do the larger production wells have backup power? How many? If not, why?

We currently have 12 well locations with on-site emergency standby generators with 4 of them in the Kona district.  North Kona:  Two (2) 1000kW generators (Honokohau and Waiaha wells) .  South Kona:  One (1) 1000kW & one (1) 400 kW generators (Halekii and Keei C wells).  All the generators are portable and can be transported to power other well sites if needed.

  1. Do you have pre bid on-call contacts in place for outside contractors so there is no delay when needed? If not, why?

DWS does not have an on-call contract with any well repair contractors as State procurement laws require that DWS use competitive bidding process for each well repair.       

  1. Why aren’t key well parts on the island?

We keep a limited inventory of spare pumps and motors and replace entire assemblies as required, but do not keep pump and motor parts.   Spare pump parts (large bowls, impellers, etc.) are not kept in inventory on island or at the factory because each pump is unique in size, shape and material, it is not feasible to keep custom (expensive) parts in inventory that may or may not be needed to replace worn and/or damaged components after a failure, and of which cannot be used for any other pump.  It is best to replace entire assemblies, which are assembled, inspected, tested and warranted by the manufacturer.  Motor parts are not kept in inventory because we are not able to replace most components (thrust bearing, stator and rotor windings, seals, shaft, etc.) on large submersible motors since they require manufacturer technicians and specialized equipment that are not available in the State of Hawaii. 

  1. Who is the pump vendor or vendors?

Manufacturers that DWS utilizes include American Turbine, Byron Jackson (Flowserve), Floway, Goulds, Gicon, Centrilift, National, Simflo and Ruhrpumpen.

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

Each pump is unique and custom made.  Any time the head changes, the corresponding flow and efficiency will change.  A small change in efficiency can have a large impact on operational cost.  For example, at our larger well sites that run 24/7, just a 4.5% reduction in overall efficiency would amount to approximately $65,000 in additional power cost over the first year of operation.   If absolutely necessary, we can install a pump and motor from another location as long as they’re compatible (comparable in horsepower, size, rotational speed, pressure, and etc.).  However, due to additional costs for power, it is more prudent to have pumps and motors specific to the application.