KAILUA-KONA — The county Department of Water Supply has 11 of 13 deep wells up and running in North Kona.
Yet, a significant number of questions and roadblocks remain between the department’s current standing and full system functionality.
The questions begin at Waiaha deep well, where DWS Manager-Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto said the process of recovering equipment the contractor lost down the well after a cable snapped during an extraction last summer has started.
It’s still uncertain as to whether the equipment can be removed, and if it can be, if the integrity of the water source remains intact. Okamoto told the county Water Board during its monthly meeting Tuesday that the department can’t provide a timetable or any guarantees.
“The main priority is to retain that source,” he said.
Okamoto’s hope is that even if the integrity of the well is compromised, consulting with hydrogeologists might allow for Waiaha’s salvaging. If that’s not the case, he said financial responsibility will reside with the contractor, Derrick’s Well Drilling and Pump Services LLC, which is paying for the extraction work out of its own pocket.
Okamoto added if construction of a new well is required, the price tag could reach upward of $1 million.
DWS already is scouting potential sites for a new Waiaha water source, if required, but there are several properties with archaeological significance in the region, which Okamoto said might complicate the process.
If a new site is constructed, the department plans to transition to a two-well system with reduced horsepower at each well — a plan DWS likely is to pursue with most of its new construction after lessons learned from the North Kona water crisis last year.
The other North Kona site still inoperative is Hualalai. The deep well there tripped offline in early October. After an investigation, DWS suspects the problem might be related to improper storage of equipment.
Pumps and motors are meant to be stored vertically and rotated regularly, but as of now, that’s not an option. The department is interested in developing a well asset management program, Okamoto said, which might include vertical storage if that’s deemed the best practice.
Vertical storage is preferable, but the North Kona Water Permitted Interaction Group — assembled last year to conduct an internal audit of the system and includes members of the Water Board, DWS and the private sector — also is examining the possibility of ordering and storing backup equipment off island. Ready-made, functional parts then would be shipped in when wells require repairs.
Okamoto said that arrangement would require some sort of rental agreement with manufacturers. If that solution fails to prove feasible, he estimates between eight and 10 vertical pits would need to be dug for storage on the island and DWS would have to hire someone to rotate them regularly.
Water Board Chairman Craig Takamine, a member of the action group, said Tuesday the team has given itself a deadline of March 20 to finalize its report, which will be presented at the Water Board’s next meeting March 27 in Hilo.
Meanwhile, the sole water source serving Hawaiian Ocean View Estates and the Ranchos area in Ka‘u, known as the HOVE deep well, failed in mid-November. DWS repaired the well and began testing Feb. 9 in preparation for bringing it back online. After four startups, however, the motor failed.
Clyde Young, lead mechanical engineer with DWS, told the Water Board that the department conducted an electrical resistance test, which indicated the problem was downside and equipment would need to be extracted. The contractor is expected to begin the extraction as early as this weekend or at some point next week, he said.
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