Wai Ola: The Water of Life!

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Leinaʻala Ahu Isa, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

Wai is the Hawaiian word for “freshwater.” Ola means “life.” Hawaiians believed that all the land and the water belonged to the gods. The highest chief, aliʻi nui, acted for the gods and ruled these lands.

On Feb. 11, 2022, we met with our congressional delegation, Rep. Kai Kahele and Rep. Ed Case, as they introduced their Bill in Congress to SHUT RED HILL DOWN!

This Bill directs the Secretary of the Navy to close the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaiʻi, as well as for other purposes. This ACT may be cited as the “Red Hill Watershed and Aquifer Initiative Act,” or the “Red Hill WAI Act.”

Findings: The “Red Hill Facility” was constructed in September 1943 underground in hollowed-out volcanic rock so as to allow for maximum protection of the fuel supply. Its 20 steel tanks are encased by 2.5 to 4 feet of concrete and surrounded by basalt bedrock. It is the single Department of Defense fuel storage facility in the Pacific region. The Red Hill Facility is located approximately 100 feet above the basal groundwater table and sits DIRECTLY above the island of Oahu’s federally designated sole source groundwater aquifer. This aquifer provides 77% of Oahu’s drinking water.

Photo: Trustee Leinaʻala Ahu Isa with supporters of the congressional legislation to shut down the Red Hill fuel tanks
Trustee Leinaʻala Ahu Isa with supporters of the congressional legislation to shut down the Red Hill fuel tanks. – Photo: Courtesy

In May 2021, a burst pipeline in Red Hill spilled fuel into the facility’s lower access tunnel. On Nov. 22, 2021, the Navy announced that the fuel mixture was removed, put into a storage tank above ground, and there were no signs that the fuel escaped into the environment. WRONG!

But then on Nov. 28, 2021, military families and civilians living in the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam military housing installation began reporting contaminated tap water. They reported noxious odors in impacted homes making this housing unsuitable for families. Then on Dec. 6, 2021, Hawaiʻi’s Department of Health issued an Emergency Order. But On Dec. 7, 2021, the Navy announced that they would contest the State of Hawaiʻi’s order to drain the fuel tanks. Then on Dec. 10, 2021, the Navy confirmed that samples taken from the Navy Red Hill Shaft contained levels 350 times greater than the State of Hawaiʻi safe drinking limit.

The Bill introduced by Rep. Kahele and Rep. Case states that the Red Hill Facility must be defueled by Dec. 31, 2022, and must comply with the Emergency Order of the Department of Health to “immediately suspend operations at the ʻRed Hill’ Bulk Fuel Storage Tanks.”

Mahalo nui, Congressmen Kahele and Case, for all your work crafting and submitting this most imperative bill!

Kūmau ʻole. ʻAʻole loa!

Restore and rejuvenate yourselves in peace and quiet. You want to be surrounded by whatever you feel protects you.

Mālama pono always, a hui hou, Trustee Leinaʻala Ahu Isa