Hamakua well breaks down

by John Burnett

Temporary well may bring turbid water

If county water users in the Honokaa area notice a difference in their tap water — such as murkiness or chlorine odor or taste — it’s because the pump at the Haina well has broken down and an alternative well had to be tapped.

“As of this morning it failed fully, so we have zero output,” Keith Okamoto, the county’s Water Quality Assurance Branch chief, said Thursday afternoon. “… More than likely it’s something to do with the motor.”

It’s not the first pump breakdown at the Haina well, the only county well serving Honokaa, Ahualoa, Kalopa, Pohakea, upper Paauilo and Kukuihaele. Hamakua residents were placed on a 25-percent water restriction in August 2007 following a pump failure.

At that time, the county had to truck in water from Paauilo. Okamoto said the county has been doing the same thing since early this week, when it became apparent that the Haina pump was failing again.

“Every several years we do have some problems with that well,” Okamoto said. He said that Honokaa water users shouldn’t have noticed any difference in water quality or pressure as of Thursday afternoon.

At Malama Market’s Honokaa store, Mele, who did not give a last name, said: “We haven’t noticed any difference.”

The county was in the process of transferring its Honokaa water lines to a nearly completed well dug above the old Honokaa Hospital site by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Okamoto said. The alternative well was expected to be online by Thursday night.

“Luckily for us, this well was close to being finished by the state DLNR, so we asked if we could use it on an emergency basis until Haina is fixed, and it’s right at our tank site above the old Honokaa Hospital,” he said. “So it’s well water, being pumped by our tank into our system, chlorinated like usual.”

Unfortunately, that well is experiencing what Stuart Yamada, the state Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch chief calls “turbidity” — which is murkiness caused by silt.

“In a groundwater well, turbidity is a very rare anomaly,” Yamada said. “Usually in a groundwater well, the water is very clear, no turbidity issues at all. … They have done a couple of rounds of testing that show no evidence of organisms or anything like that, but shows an awful lot of debris — mineral-type and soil-type debris.”

A written Department of Water Supply statement advised “people with severely weakened immune systems … to take extra precautions to minimize the risk of infection from parasites, such as cryptosporidium.” The notice called cryptosporidium “very resistant to chlorine” and said the organism “has caused waterborne disease outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness worldwide.” It noted that people with severely weakened immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and transplant patients taking immunosuppressive drugs or born with weakened immune systems “should consult with their health care providers about how to protect themselves against cryptosporidium from all sources.”

Asked if there is any evidence of cryptosporidium in the DLNR well, Yamada said: “No.”

He called the silt in the state well “a mystery.”

“I realize (the warning) appears to be over the edge, but the turbidity issue alone makes (the well’s water) appear like a surface water source,” Yamada said.

Okamoto said DOH required the warning on the county’s notice.

“It’s a very precautionary notice. The customers do not have to be concerned,” he said. “… Basically, because of higher-than-normal turbidity levels, I think the Department of Health has taken this extra precaution.”

The notice also notes that if samples from the well indicate presence of fecal coliform contamination — which to date, they have not — the Department of Water Supply will notify affected customers, who will then be advised to boil all water used for drinking or cooking.

Both DWS and DOH urged water customers to conserve water until the Haina well pump is fixed, something the DWS said could take up to six months.

“It’s really important to urge people to conserve water, because that emergency source cannot match the production or the consumption of what was produced by the Haina well,” Yamada said. “People would do well to not overtask this source, because there are not a lot of options.”

Yamada said that in a perfect world, the DLNR well would not be put online to serve the public until the silt issue is resolved.

“We understand that they’re between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “They need something now. It’s a very peculiar source. For all intents and purposes, it appears to meet standards, but it has some very peculiar characteristics that we need (DWS) to follow up on.”

Cryptosporidium guidelines online at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/consumer/pdf/crypto.pdf.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald :: Hilo, Hawaii > Local News

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