KAILUA-KONA — The number of downed deep wells in North Kona hasn’t changed as four of the region’s 14 water sources remain out of commission. A 10 percent voluntary conservation on water use in the area also remains in effect.
However, Department of Water Supply officials said at a Water Board meeting Tuesday in Kailua-Kona that they’re making progress on at least three of the four fronts, adding the deep well at Honokohau may be pumping water to the surface again as soon as early January.
Kawika Uyehara, DWS deputy, told the board a coupling issue complicating progress at the site has been remedied. The relevant equipment is with the contractor and the electrical connection is expected to be complete by week’s end.
“If that schedule maintains itself, we’re looking at maybe mid-December having the (equipment) down the hole,” Uyehara said.
Assuming no problems, the department might turn the Honokohau tap back on by early next year. Power monitoring equipment will be included in the Honokohau revamp, which DWS hopes will provide for better management at the troubled but important site that has failed three times since 2015.
Uyehara said the department expects testing on equipment intended for the Hualalai Deep Well repair should be completed by the end of next month, with installation work slated to begin in early 2019.
He added DWS is hopeful it can award a contract for repair of the Palani Deep Well by mid-January. When water might flow again at Hualalai and Palani, Uyehara didn’t say.
As for Waiaha, the fourth offline well in the North Kona system, the department had little news to offer.
Derrick’s Well Drilling and Pump Services lost equipment, including a pump and motor, when a cable snapped during an extraction attempt in summer 2017. That equipment has yet to be retrieved.
DWS has considered multiple options for the site, including digging another well, which Keith Okamoto, DWS manager-chief engineer, estimated earlier this year could cost upward of $1 million. Another possibility is to use the same well and pump water at a lower capacity.
Derrick’s, which continues to bid on projects and conduct a good deal of business with DWS, may be held financially liable for the costs associated with whatever solution DWS decides on for Waiaha.
“Just yesterday, I think, we received a letter from the contractor’s attorney,” Uyehara told the board Tuesday. “So because of the potential for litigation on that one, we’re not going to make further comment at this time.”
Okamoto said in an interview with West Hawaii Today earlier this year that the situation with litigation is complicated because of a lack of contractor options on the island. Seeking restitution could actually prove more expensive for DWS in the long run depending on the impact litigation would have on Derrick’s financials and what kind of insurance payout the company might be able to secure.
“That’s something we really don’t want because that will leave us with just one (contractor), and then competition just goes out the window,” Okamoto said in February.
Leadership, evaluations pushed back
Also scheduled for Tuesday’s meeting were the election of a chairperson and vice chairperson for 2019, as well as performance evaluations and determinations on salaries for both Okamoto and Uyehara.
Those items were rescheduled for discussion at the Water Board’s final meeting of the year, set for 10 a.m. on Dec. 18 in Hilo.
While Mayor Harry Kim appoints members to the Water Board, it’s the members themselves who vote to decide on leadership positions.
Current chairperson, Craig Takamine, wasn’t in attendance on Tuesday, which was one reason the board decided to push back the vote. Takamine’s term, not just as chair but as a member of the board, ends after this year.
Current vice chairperson, William Boswell Jr., said Takamine is the only current member of the nine-person body who will vacate his seat before 2019.
As to possible raises for DWS brass, if last year is any indication, Okamoto and Uyehara would both be in line for them. Each man received an 8 percent raise following a tumultuous 2017 for the department, which saw a mandatory 25 percent water use restriction in effect for North Kona for most of that year.
Okamoto currently earns just above $130,000 per year, while Uyehara’s 2018 salary bump brought his pay up to just shy of $119,000 annually. Last year’s raise kept Okamoto the third-highest paid person of the four people who hold the position across Hawaii counties.
Takamine in January described the raises as “fair” in that they kept top DWS salaries reasonably commensurate with similar positions across the state.
He also noted that despite equipment failures that plagued the department and raised concern within the community, DWS never had to shut off water to any North Kona customers — something Takamine considered a win when evaluating circumstances he said weren’t entirely under DWS control.