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Preparing for Tropical Storms: Working with Circuit Riders Pays Off

April 11, 2014 |

By Kevin Baughman, RCAC Circuit Rider and Jennifer Nakaido, Hawaii Department of Health, Safe Drinking Water Branch

During Tropical Storm Iselle, the dedication of many water professionals throughout the State was clearly demonstrated.  Water systems were put to the test and had a real challenge.  When the storm hit, it was good to see the hard work, preparation, and planning pay off.

This story is about two water systems on the Big Island that have been working with the Drinking Water Circuit Riders to make technical, managerial, and financial improvements to their water systems.  The water systems owned by Hawaiian Beaches Water Company (HBWC) and Hawaiian Shores Community Association (HSCA) were hit hard during Tropical Storm Iselle.  The operators directly involved were Kate Drago and Mark Prescott of HBWC, and Samantha (Sam) Martoni and George (Keoki) Kaheiki Jr. of HSCA.  These professionals went above and beyond to help restore water service quickly and safely to the area.  HBWC and HSCA made contact with the Circuit Riders before, during and after the storm and assistance was given over the recovery days.

Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) Circuit Rider Joy Gannon was instrumental in posting updates on social media by updating the HBWC website and Facebook page.  Social media proved to be a good method of relaying information to the public after the event as rumors had started spreading.  The Facebook page reached over a thousand people to let them know HBWC was back on-line and that no shut down was going to take place in the immediate future.

In fact, the HBWC never lost service!  HBWC had previously invested in upgrades to their system including adding storage, installing a new backup emergency power generator, and installing meters to change from a flat rate fee to a use based fee.  The additional storage and emergency generator were the key factors that contributed to continuous service even when power was lost.  Mark, who lives in the neighborhood, arrived and stayed at the baseyard to monitor and respond during the storm.  His professional dedication helped to ensure continuous water service.

With HBWC running smoothly, all focus turned to HSCA.  RCAC Circuit Rider Kevin Baughman met up with Sam of HSCA on Friday, the day after Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall.  Unsure if Tropical Storm Julio would be headed their way, they quickly assessed the damage, reviewed the procedures and made a plan to recover.  HSCA lost both power and water during the storm.  It was suspected that many mains had been broken from uprooted trees.  Recovering electricity was in the works.  The Boil Water notice template was filled out and arrangements were made to get help passing them out the next morning.

On Saturday, the operators and Kevin met at the HSCA water yard and learned electricity had been partially restored.  Contact was made with HELCO, the local electric utility, and a technician was sent to check on the situation.  This was all accomplished by 11 a.m.  Then work was started to restore water to the community mains.  It was rough going.  Sam and Keoki started through the community isolating one street at a time where they could access the isolation valves.  This work was made more difficult as the mains and laterals are located at the back of the properties instead of in the streets.  With the downed trees and power lines, some isolation valves were just impossible to access, but slowly the system was refilled.  At the same time, Mark and Kevin monitored the water supply to verify no leaks.  By night fall, the last section was reached but when bringing it on, a major leak was suspected because the booster pumps began having a hard time keeping up with the system.  The decision was made to use gravity for the night and resume recovery in the morning.

Early on Sunday, it appeared that the second storm was turning away.  However, the overnight demand had been five times normal usage.  Sam opted to read meters to try to find the major leak.  By 9 a.m., the last of the remote read meters was captured.  While pulled to the side of the road to review the data, the sound of rushing water was noticed in the very middle of the subdivision.  With the help of Keoki and Mark, the isolation valve for the lateral was found and the leak was stopped.  The booster pumps were restored and returned to nearly normal operation.  The rest of the day was spent clearing a path and making a patch from the broken lateral to the last two houses so complete water service could be restored.

Monday morning came and the water system was tested for bacteriological contamination at the beginning, middle and end of the distribution system.  By noon on Tuesday, the bacteriological results were in and found to be negative so the boil water notice was lifted.  The HSCA water system was up to providing 100% normal service thanks to the operators and Circuit Riders.

HBWC and HSCA are located in the area hit hardest by Topical Storm Iselle.  However, because both water systems had been working on making system improvements during recent years with the help of the Circuit Riders, HBWC’s water service was uninterrupted and HSCA’s water outage was fairly short lived given the circumstances.

Hopefully there will never be another direct hit by a tropical storm or hurricane, but it is always best to be prepared.

Originally published in ‘The Water Spot,’ a publication of the Hawaii Department of Health, Safe Drinking Water Branch