Water Board seeks answers on well breakdowns in West Hawaii

HILO — What went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again were topmost on the minds of members of the county Water Board on Tuesday, as they heard an update on well breakdowns in West Hawaii.

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HILO — What went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again were topmost on the minds of members of the county Water Board on Tuesday, as they heard an update on well breakdowns in West Hawaii.

The board unanimously agreed to spend $152,000 for backup pumps and motors for the Hawaiian Ocean View Estates and Halekii wells, but learned that backup equipment for the Honokohau well, estimated at $215,000, didn’t meet the bid requirements and had to be rejected. The department plans to continue pursuing a purchase under state procurement laws.

The board also unanimously approved a $987,635 bid from Beylik Drilling &Pump Service Inc. to repair the Kalaoa No. 1 well. The well is currently working but is one of the top high-level wells in the area and needs to be repaired “in advance of failure,” said Keith Okamoto, manager and chief engineer for the Department of Water Supply.

With four of the area’s 13 wells under repair, North Kona has been under mandatory water restrictions since January, requiring a 25 percent reduction in water usage. The restrictions are expected to remain in effect even after the Waiaha Deepwell comes back on line July 31. Repairs at three other wells are set for completion by the end of the year.

Okamoto and Clyde Young, the lead mechanical engineer, said no one factor caused so many wells to break down in such short order. There was no one cause for all the breakdowns, they said. Motors burning out and pumps, bearings and seals failing are all possible causes. There’s really no way to tell until the equipment is raised from the well.

“Our crystal ball is not that good yet,” Okamoto said.

Nor is it easy to tell when equipment is ready to fail, they said.

“The hard part with these submersibles is there is no visual,” Okamoto said. “Our crew consistently monitors the flow.”

Young said the department is currently in the “beginning steps” of purchasing power monitors, “so we can jump on the repairs a lot faster.”

Water Board member Leningrad Elarionoff pushed the staff to find answers. He said he refused to be part of a “rubber-stamp board.”

“It can’t be coincidence, no?” he said about so many breakdowns.

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The department is beefing up its inventory of replacement parts, Okamoto said, but it’s still trying to stay on budget and not buy parts that will deteriorate while sitting in storage.

“We’ve just got to get a better balance managing our spare inventory,” Okamoto said. “We’ve got to keep an eye on our resources and not do too much. … It’s finding that balance.”