DWS lifts yearlong North Kona water restriction

  • Signs like this one on Mamalahoa Highway were common sights for almost a full year during the North Kona water restriction. (LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today file)

KAILUA-KONA — After 362 days of mandatory conservation, Hawaii County Department of Water Supply has turned the taps back on in North Kona.

DWS in a press release Tuesday officially downgraded the mandatory 25 percent water usage reduction, in effect since Jan. 12, 2017, to a 10 percent voluntary water conservation.

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The news comes nearly three weeks after contractors finished repairing the Keopu deep well, reducing the number of offline water sources in the region to three.

“The department feels confident that the water needs of the community will be met with the 10 (percent) voluntary conservation in effect and will continue to monitor the water system and make adjustments as necessary,” the release read.

DWS went on to thank the community for its nearly a year of compliance with restrictions that consistently, or at times, included limiting all water usage to basic living necessities, a halt on all non-commercial irrigation later amended with the exception of “precious plants,” and the washing of personal vehicles.

Construction projects like the Manawalea Street extension, part of the state’s large-scale housing and commercial development at Kamakana Villages that requires abundant water to implement dust control measures, were put on hold for months as DWS struggled with five simultaneously inoperative deep wells. North Kona is home to 13 such water sources.

At times during the past year, the 25 percent restriction has remained in effect with three deep wells concurrently offline, which was the case as of Tuesday.

DWS Manager-Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto has explained, however, that some water sources are more crucial than others based on factors of capacity and location. The department has said for weeks once the Keopu deep well proved effective, the restriction would be downgraded.

Deep wells at Keahuolu and Hualalai, both of which were repaired in 2017 only to fail again shortly after due to premature submersible equipment failure, remain inoperative. The deep well at Waiaha is last on the department’s priority list, as its repair will require fishing out equipment lost after an excavation cable snapped over the summer.

No timelines exist for the return of any of the three wells.

Two separate audits of the system remain underway, with no official results yet released. One such audit was commissioned by the Hawaii County Water Board in conjunction with DWS and employed the aid of the private sector, focusing on the technical aspects of long-term, widespread system failure.

Members of the action group tasked with the Water Board audit have mentioned suggestions likely to be included in the official report, which is expected sometime early this year.

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One suggestion is standardizing deep well equipment and storing it on the mainland, allowing for a quicker response and equipment suitable for multiple wells instead of specified only to one. Another suggestion is to build redundancy into key well sites, reducing pumping power but ensuring functionality by switching from a one motor/pump system to a dual motor/pump system.

A second audit was commissioned by the County Council and is centered on emergency backup plans and systems to avoid future crises. Bonnie Nims, county legislative auditor, has yet to release any findings or recommendations.