With 364 Watermain Breaks a Year, Former City Officials Say Honolulu’s Board of Water Supply Needs to Boost Pipe Replacement Schedule

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BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Oahu’s Board of Water Supply must replace hundreds of miles of pipes connecting Oahu’s 2,100-mile aging water system.

Some 900 miles of piping are more than 40 years old, and another 300 miles were laid over 70 years ago.


With the pipes deteriorating, there is at least one water main break a day, an average of 364 days a year.

A team of former city appointees, assembled by Honolulu Mayoral Candidate Ben Cayetano, said the Board of Water Supply should be replacing 30 to 40 miles of pipe per year.

But in 2010, the agency completed just one mile of construction, in 2011, just six miles were finished; and in 2012, the agency will replace five miles of pipeline.

Kurt K. Tsue, spokesperson for the Board of Water Supply, said the agency has been focused on other repairs:

“In addition to replacing pipeline, the BWS is also renewing other components essential to the water delivery system, which are also in need of proactive maintenance.  This includes 94 potable water sources, 90 booster pump stations, and 170 potable reservoirs.  In 2010, the BWS also conducted renovation and repair projects at nine wells, five booster stations, six reservoirs, and three facilities.”

This year, in addition to 5 miles of pipeline replacements, Tsue said the Board of Water Supply will conduct 20 renovation projects at its wells, shafts and boosters, as well as renovations at six of its water tanks.

“The pipeline projects this year include water system improvement projects in Hawaii Kai, Liliha, Aiea, Mapunapuna, University Avenue, Ward Avenue, and Kona Street,” he said. “In addition to reducing the likelihood of emergency water main breaks, these projects will also improve fire protection and enhance water service to residents and businesses in the area.”

Taxpayers are seeing monumental increases in their water bills. However, Cayetano’s Truth Squad” members said recent rate increases are only programmed to replace 40 miles of pipes in the next 5 years.

Tsue said the rate increases will fund a multi-year capital improvement program and ensure continued service.

“With regards to pipeline projects, it will also allow the Board of Water Supply to increase the miles of pipeline projects to about 10 miles per year in the following fiscal years,” Tsue said.

As part of a proactive effort to reduce the occurrence of emergency water main breaks, Board of Water Supply personnel are looking for and identifying leaks in the water system to schedule planned repair projects before the leaks turn into significant breaks, Tsue said.

“Crews survey approximately 50 miles of pipelines per month to find leaks in the distribution system using a combination of digital correlating loggers to record pipe vibrations as water pushes through the pipes and toning equipment to pinpoint the location of the leak,” Tsue said.

“The data collected is used to prioritize and schedule planned repairs to the water system.  Leak detection efforts have resulted in an estimated savings of approximately 1.4 million gallons of water per day (mgd), or about 506 million gallons per year.”

Cayetano’s “truth squad” of former city officials said the entire system upgrade for the Board of Water Supply pipeline is expected to cost ratepayers $1.2 billion.


See the recently implemented water rates and charges: