USACE, EPA, Partners Working to Address Water Quality Concerns at King Kamehameha III Elementary School

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and state and county officials are actively working to address water quality concerns raised at the King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina, Hawai’i, on Friday, April 5.

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Officials are collaborating to identify and fix the issue. The initial indication is the concerns reported were the result of stagnant water that was not properly cycling through the system due to low usage prior to students returning to the school. Water experts from a variety of agencies are currently flushing out the entire system and will test it once it is complete. The first test results are expected to be available Tuesday. Out of an abundance of caution, Maui County Department of Water Supply and the EPA are partnering to test throughout the week with the results due within two weeks. Results will be shared as they become available.

David Rinaldi, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deputy operations section chief, left, and Col. Eric Swenson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recovery Field Office commander for the West Maui County, Hawai‘i, wildfires and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, commander, speak with a contractor about options to support water quality concerns raised at the King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina, Hawai’i, April 6. USACE PHOTO BY PATRICK MOES

“While we troubleshoot, identify and resolve the issue, we are taking precautionary measures to ensure the children have a clean, safe learning environment,” said Col. Eric Swenson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recovery Field Office commander. “The children have been through too much already, and we are committed to doing everything we can to support them, their families, and the entire community. This is our highest priority.”

While waiting for test results, Pono Aina Management, the contractor who built the school, will provide bottled drinking water to students, faculty, and staff. Maui County is providing bulk potable water for use in the cafeteria. The odor detected by teachers and confirmed in four isolated areas this morning by water experts from the EPA and a local water testing company, is believed to be associated with naturally occurring minerals in the water. In concentrated doses this condition can emit a distinguishable odor; water that is stagnant for an extended period of time can also appear dark in color. This condition is common in new construction and easily treated by systematically flushing the water lines. Though the school is a customer of the public water system, past the water meter it is supplied by an isolated branch line with backflow prohibitors. Both Maui County Department of Water Supply and the EPA stress that the county water system is not impacted.

David Rinaldi, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deputy operations section chief, discusses the process to flush the water lines at the King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina, Hawai’i, April 6. USACE PHOTO BY PATRICK MOES

The school opened to around 350 students April 1. Prior to USACE turning over the school to the DOE, the water quality was tested by USACE contractors and met the state water quality standards on Jan. 30, and again on March 26.

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Swenson said everyone is focused on prioritizing the health and well-being of the community as they move forward in the recovery process. “We understand the concerns and are committed to remain transparent with the public/community/parents/families/faculty/students throughout the process,” he added.

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