County orders restricted water use

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KAILUA-KONA — The county’s Department of Water Supply ordered all residents and customers in North Kona to immediately restrict their water use and cease all irrigation after another well went out of service Thursday morning.

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KAILUA-KONA — The county’s Department of Water Supply ordered all residents and customers in North Kona to immediately restrict their water use and cease all irrigation after another well went out of service Thursday morning.

The department also announced plans to begin “actively restricting specific accounts due to exorbitant water use.”

The failure of the Keahuolu Deepwell makes that well the fifth well currently out-of-service, joining four others in the area that have been inoperable since January.

“Without everyone’s cooperation, there’s bound to be areas that will experience periodic loss of water or loss of pressure,” said Keith Okamoto, manager and chief engineer with DWS on Hawaii Island, in an interview with West Hawaii Today.

The emergency restriction is likely to continue through the latter part of next week, Okamoto said, adding that there was already a spare pump on its way to the site.

Still, he said, it’s troubling given that the Keahuolu Deepwell was just repaired months ago.

The announcement comes about a week and a half after the Department of Water Supply said North Kona customers appeared to be ignoring a mandatory 25-percent reduction in water use that the department issued in January.

The North Kona area is bounded on the makai side by Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay to the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole. It’s bounded on the mauka side from the juncture of Highways 11 and 180 to the Makalei Fire Station.

At the time of the department’s last announcement, Okamoto told West Hawaii Today that the failure of just one more well would be “catastrophic.”

Okamoto on Thursday re-affirmed that view.

“For us, this is catastrophic,” he said after the Keahuolu Deepwell’s failure.

Although the well isn’t the department’s largest, he said, it puts on the table the possibility that some customers might end up having to go without water if the emergency restriction isn’t taken seriously.

The department has already taken some measures to make use of other available sources by pumping water north and up mauka.

Water losses could still be avoided if North Kona customers restrict water use to the essentials: cooking, cleaning, bathing and flushing toilets.

Hawaii Fire Department West Hawaii Battalion Chief Darwin Okinaka said they’ve reduced training that requires spraying water, but the restrictions won’t affect their ability to respond in an emergency.

“If we have a situation where we need it, then we’ll use what we need to protect our community here,” Okinaka said.

He added that reports of brush fires don’t typically spike on the Fourth of July, a holiday famous for fireworks.

He said that areas of greatest concern for brush fires are closer to Waikoloa, which isn’t included in the region affected by the water restriction.

The restriction applies especially to irrigation, which Okamoto earlier this month said appeared to be “the largest contributor to the problem.”

Okamoto said farmers who irrigate are strongly encouraged to find any way they can cut back on water uses and use that water as efficiently as possible, such as not irrigating in the middle of the day, when evaporation can take off much of the water put on the ground.

“We really want to have them evaluate irrigation needs and cut back as much as they can,” Okamoto said.

Other commercial users should also look at where they can conserve water, he added, giving the example of restaurants only serving water on request.

The mayor’s office in a separate announcement said customers in North Kona “must cease all other non-essential water use, including all irrigation and washing of vehicles and boats.”

That announcement didn’t sit well with boaters, who told West Hawaii Today on Thursday that stopping them from washing their boats is a non-starter.

“Asking people to be conservative is one thing,” said Colin Cornforth, a snorkel boat captain, “but to flat-out stop immediately is just too much.”

And while he doesn’t think it’s unreasonable to ask people to be aware of conserving water, he said, boaters already pay for permits to be able to use harbor resources.

“I don’t think we should suffer for the county’s neglect,” he said.

Mark Leong, a managing partner at Lex Brodie’s Kona Express Car Wash said the restrictions haven’t affected their business, saying about 20 of the 30 gallons used in a car wash is reclaimed water that’s run through clarifying tanks, as is all the water they use to irrigate on the property.

He compared that to motorists who wash their vehicles on their own, using solely water being pumped out of the ground.

The mayor’s office also recommended residents store 5-10 gallons “for basic household needs,” saying the department has established public water distribution stations on Ane Keohokalole Highway between Kealakehe Parkway and Kealakehe High School and also at Hina Lani Street, between Anini Street and Manu Mele Street.

Even once fixes are made at Keahuolu Deepwell, the area will still be under the 25-percent restriction, given that some wells still remain inoperable.

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Repairs at Waiaha, home to a 2-million-gallon tank and the first well DWS expects to come back online, are expected to begin in early July and finish near the end of that month, according to news files.

Upgrades at the Palani Ranch well are scheduled to be completed at the end of October, while work at the Hualalai well is expected to finish in late November.

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