Navy Flushes Pipes of Two Neighborhoods Hit with Tainted Water; More Than 20 to Go

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Airmen palletize water filtration systems destined for Red Hill, Hawaii
305th Aerial Port Squardon airmen palletize water filtration systems destined for Red Hill, Hawaii at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Dec. 15, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt Joseph Vigil)

The Navy has completed flushing the drinking water systems of two neighborhoods in Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam almost a month after families complained about contamination, according to an update released by the Navy on Friday. More than 20 neighborhoods have yet to have the water in their systems cleared..

Since Dec. 17, more than 1,600 military families and other occupants of base housing have been forced to stay at hotels and another 2,200 were living in homes without drinkable water. Families reported that the water was making them sick, and that it had a foul odor smelling of gasoline.

The source of the contamination appears to be the Navy's World War II-era underground fuel storage facility known as Red Hill. The facility sits above the Pearl Harbor aquifer, and it has had a history of environmental problems. In October, the Hawaii Department of Health fined the Navy more than $325,000 for violations from Red Hill. Then, on Nov. 22, the facility accidentally released 14,000 gallons of fuel and water from a fire suppression system drain line, according to the Associated Press.

According to the latest progress map, the Pearl City Peninsula, Aliamanu Military Reservation communities -- more than 1,700 homes -- have had the distribution systems that serve them flushed of contaminated water. Only after the systems have been cleared will the Navy flush the water in homes, including running taps and cleaning out appliances.

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If the Navy keeps to the current schedule, all homes should have new water in their pipes by the last week of January.

The Navy says that the flushing is being done with water from fire hydrants and the output is run through giant activated carbon filters before being put into the storm drains or allowed to drain over land.

In total, the service plans to bring 20 of these filtering systems to the island of Oahu to scrub the more than 25 million gallons of water it plans to flush.

"Once zones are flushed, water samples are taken and sent to a certified lab on the mainland for testing to confirm the drinking water meets federal and state standards," a Navy update said.

Assuming the samples come back safe, the Navy will move to flushing and sampling homes. Rear Adm. T.J. Kott, the commander of Navy Region Hawaii, said the plan is to flush every home, including appliances like water heaters and dishwashers, regardless of whether issues were reported.

The current schedule says the Pearl City and Aliamanu Military Reservation communities could be fully flushed and tested by the first and second weeks of January, respectively.

Another four neighborhoods, Red Hill Housing, Hale Moku, Hokulani and Moanalua Terrace, are having their distribution systems flushed now. More than 20 more areas are on the list.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: More than a Thousand Military Families in Hawaii Stuck in Hotels Through the Holidays

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