May 2017, Civil Beat, Courtney Teague.
When a 2-foot-wide, cast iron water main broke beneath the H-1 freeway in Kahala in January, workers had to dig a gaping hole nearly 20 feet deep, and repairs took several days. A nightmarish traffic backup ensued, and the Waialae Beach Park was temporarily closed.
Two months later on a sunny afternoon in nearby Palolo, residents stood in their driveways, watching water shoot out of Pakui Street from a broken 16-inch cast iron main. The plume could be seen for miles as it rained down on a house across the street.
Sheila Niderost pointed to white lines around the break that she said were painted about a month earlier when the pipe had previously burst.
Like many Palolo residents, Niderost’s home has been in the family for decades. She can recall several main breaks on Pakui Street, including one 20 years ago that damaged her car and flooded her house and yard. The road cracked down the middle, and boulders rolled off the Wilhelmina Rise hillside at the end of her street.
“That was the worst I’ve ever seen it,” she said.
While some cause a lot more trouble than others, ruptures occur almost every day somewhere along Oahu’s 2,100 miles of water pipes.
Oahu has more water main breaks than most mainland cities of similar size. Unique island factors like underground lava tubes and corrosive clay soils — along with an apparent longtime unwillingness to charge people the actual cost of delivering their fresh water — are often blamed.
Whatever the cause, Honolulu faces a mammoth challenge in upgrading its water infrastructure. The Board of Water Supply aims to replace 1 percent of all pipes in the system annually, which would cost an estimated $160 million each year in current dollars.
BWS is considering another multi-year rate increase to help pay for the work. Even after fees were raised from 2012 to 2016, Oahu water users pay less than what is needed to operate and maintain the water system, according to a University of Hawaii professor and engineering expert.
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