Editorial | Island Voices Column: Accelerate change on World Water Day By Ernie Lau March 19, 2023 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM Ernie Lau spoke at a town hall meeting on June 20 at Moanalua High School. Looking at freshwater supply challenges around the globe stirs a range of emotions. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. Looking at freshwater supply challenges around the globe stirs a range of emotions. We are grateful that most of the United States has access to clean drinking water, but this contrasts with great disparities in developing countries. Parts of the world face long periods of drought, hoping for rain to bring life to their dry, arid lands. Other areas lack the necessary infrastructure to keep waste separated from drinking water, resulting in people being ravaged by infectious diseases. Still, others must endure living under inhospitable regimes, in politically volatile countries, or in unstable, war-torn areas constantly under siege. This Wednesday, we will recognize World Water Day, an annual United Nations observance to draw attention to the importance of freshwater and to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year’s theme is accelerating change — exactly what we need for the world and for Oahu. After the Red Hill fuel leak in November 2021, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply’s Halawa shaft and nearby wells were placed on hiatus to prevent the island’s water supply from being contaminated with the Navy’s water system. BWS made operational adjustments to seamlessly maintain a reliable supply of clean water, effectively shielding the community from a water shortage and mandatory conservation measures. How long this is sustainable is unknown. This situation has forced us to look at developing other sources of freshwater, including looking for new wells, developing greater redundancy in our system, and possibly using new technology including desalinization, along with ongoing conservation efforts. When we look at our predicament on Oahu, our plight feels like those in developing countries. The U.S. Navy’s fuel spill has worsened into an unmitigated disaster. For the past year and a half, we have been subjected to the specter of more devastating leaks from the 80-year-old, 25-story high-fuel storage tanks at Red Hill, once hailed by the American Society of Civil Engineering as a historic landmark. The operational integrity of the fuel tanks and the leak detection system has not inspired confidence. The lack of accurate, timely information and a fast timeline for defueling and decommissioning the tanks have cast a pall over the entire island. The precariousness of our clean water supply position is unsettling. There has been an outcry for cultural, health and environmental justice at marches and rallies. We must begin to demand remediation and restoration of the aquifer. As an island community, we feel a deep sense of kuleana to make this situation right. We want to restore our water resource, now and for future generations, and ensure all Oahu residents have peace of mind. City and state officials have listened to the community’s concerns and are allocating funds to cover the cost of water system infrastructure projects to accelerate change. In addition, Gov. Josh Green is forming an oversight committee on Red Hill and other statewide water issues to monitor the progress of the defueling and decommissioning process, and improve communication and transparency to hold the Navy accountable for adhering to its timeline. Our congressional delegation also has been hard at work. They were instrumental in successfully including $1 billion for the defueling and permanent closure of the Red Hill facility. The Navy will have the resources it needs to defuel and close the aging facility, once and for all. They must move at full speed to avoid another disaster. It has been a long, hard battle, but we are making progress, largely through the efforts of our collective voices. We must continue to advocate to protect our most precious resource and never give up. Let’s make World Water Day the day we renew our commitment to accelerate change. Ernie Lau is the manager and chief engineer of the Board of Water Supply. Previous Story Editorial: Protecting abortion rights Next Story Column: Isn’t it time to stop making electricity more expensive?