Repair of Keopu Deep Well poised to rollback months-long North Kona water restriction

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii County Department of Water Supply finished its repair of the Keopu Deep Well Wednesday afternoon, according to a departmental release.

Once the department concludes disinfection and water quality testing protocols, Keopu will officially return to functional status. DWS predicted the well will begin pumping water back into the North Kona community as of Christmas Day.

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As soon as Keopu is operating reliably, the department said it will downgrade from the mandatory 25 percent water usage restriction to a voluntary 10 percent conservation, the release said.

Assuming the water source proves reliable before the year is out, North Kona users will have spent 11 months, give or take a few days, under either the 25 percent mandatory reduction or even harsher restrictions.

For multiple stints throughout 2017, DWS mandated a halt on all water use across the region, save for the basic necessities of drinking, cooking and hygiene purposes.

Those stretches, one of which lasted more than two months between late July and early October, were characterized by simultaneous inoperative statuses for five of North Kona’s 13 water sources. When Keopu returns to service, the number of offline deep wells will drop to three.

Deep wells at Hualalai, Keahuolu and Waiaha remain inoperative. DWS last updated their statuses on its website at hawaiidws.org on Dec. 1, noting that there is no timeline as of yet for the return of any of the three.

Premature failures of deep well equipment, particularly pumps and motors at submersible sites, accounted for much of the consistent stress on the system throughout the last year. Hualalai and Keahuolu, for instance, were each repaired in the last year, only to fail again soon after DWS returned them to service.

These developments and the subsequent public outcry led the Hawaii County Council and the Water Board to initiate audits of the system, both of which remain ongoing.

Some early recommendations from the audit include reducing strain and adding redundancy at future sites, and potentially at current priority sites, by drilling two wells instead of one, which would allow DWS to implement equipment that pumps less water and draws less power.

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Another idea from the joint public/private sector committee is to standardize pumps and motors to allow manufacturers to produce backups that can be stored on the mainland and delivered on the basis of need so as to cut down on repair times. Under the current paradigm, repairs requiring the procurement of new equipment often take six to 12 months.

Keopu, however, was not a victim of faulty equipment. Constructed in 2009, the deep well had not required repairs until now. DWS officials have said that the typical life expectancy of deep well equipment ranges from five to seven years.