Army’s Hawaii bases recovering from weekend water supply scare

by Tommy Grant

After a series of potable water pump failures impacted approximately 14,000 residents of the Army’s largest Hawaii installations last week, service officials said they anticipate the affected bases will fully restore the water system in the coming days.

Maj. Gen. Marcus Evans, who serves as both the 25th Infantry Division commander and the senior commander of all Hawaii-located Army installations, praised local civilian officials and community members for their assistance in avoiding a total system failure.

“The tremendous work and partnership by the [state] Board of Water Supply and the community of Wahiawa was instrumental in ensuring that our community never lost potable water during this period,” Evans said in a statement to Army Times.

The issue began March 19, when three of the five potable water pumps serving Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield “malfunctioned,” said 25th Infantry Division spokesperson Maj. Jeff Tolbert. A fourth pump went offline at the central Oahu installations March 21, despite “conservation measures” adopted across the post after the first malfunctions.

The Army is “still assessing the exact cause of the malfunctions,” said Tolbert. He added that only a handful of homes at Wheeler Army Airfield lost water, and that was a deliberate shutoff of “less than 30 minutes” on March 23 for critical system maintenance.

The conservation efforts, which Evans detailed in a recent town hall address, included “prohibiting the use of water for non-essential tasks like lawn care or washing cars,” Tolbert said. The measures will remain in place until the pumps are restored via “around the clock” emergency repairs.

To reduce stress on the remaining pump, garrison officials established water distribution points “throughout the installation,” the spokesperson noted. The garrison also quickly obtained additional potable water from a neighboring down and rented a portable water pump.

The situation is slowly returning to normal, according to Tolbert and official social media announcements. “We are expecting a return to normal operating capacity within the next 24-36 hours,” the spokesperson said in a Sunday evening statement.

The water pump failures are the latest in a series of utility failures that have impacted soldiers and families assigned to installations on the Hawaiian Islands.

An hours-long power outage hit Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield on March 21 amid the water problems, and smaller outages have occurred on numerous occasions this year despite maintenance efforts from both Army and civilian utility crews. Fort Shafter, an installation in south Oahu near the city of Honolulu, also experienced unscheduled power outages on March 5 and March 1.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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