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Water Main That Broke on Ali‘i Drive Part of Older Infrastructure; Sewage Spill Unrelated

By Nathan Christophel
June 13, 2022, 6:30 PM HST
* Updated June 13, 7:08 PM
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According to a spokesman for the county Department of Water Supply, the water main that broke shortly before 4 p.m. Sunday, June 12, closing a portion of Ali‘i Drive in Kona, is part of older infrastructure that can be subject to intermittent failure.

And the county Department of Environmental Management reported Monday, June 13, that a sewage spill reported shortly after was in a completely different location and was a separate event.

The Hawai‘i Police Department sent out a community advisory at 3:55 p.m. Sunday, alerting the public that the water main break had shut down both lanes of traffic and Water Supply crews were on scene. Hawai’i County Civil Defense reported via email at 4:47 p.m. that Ali‘i Drive was closed between Honl’s Surf Spot and Lunapule Road in Kailua-Kona.

Residents and businesses in the affected area were asked to minimize the use of their sanitary systems through the night, and Civil Defense reminded the public that water conservation and restriction measures for the area remained in place. The portion of the roadway was expected to be closed for several hours while crews worked to correct the problem. Motorists were asked to use alternate routes.

Police reported at 1:14 a.m. Monday, June 13, that the roadway was reopen to traffic.

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Janet Snyder, information and education specialist with the Department of Water Supply, said Monday afternoon in an email to Big Island Now that the water main was repaired and water service restored to affected customers by about 9:45 p.m. Sunday.

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She said it is difficult to determine how much water was lost because of the broken main, but to repair the pipe, Water Supply personnel shut off the nearest appropriate valves as quickly as feasible. It is also unlikely that the water leaking from this main break went directly into the ocean.

“This is an older cast iron pipeline which can be affected by earthquakes and seismic activity,” Snyder said.

There have been breaks in the water main along Ali‘i Drive in the past. Snyder said eventually the older infrastructure will be replaced with newer pipe; however, the department has no estimate for when that will happen.

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While the Civil Defense report Sunday afternoon said the water main break and a sewage spill caused the portion of the roadway to be closed, Snyder said her department is only aware of the water main that was broken in the area.

“Our understanding is that the DEM incident took place across town in Kona,” and it was not associated with the water main break, she said.

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According to the county Department of Environmental Management, the sewage spill was the result of a broken 8-inch sewer line on Kuakini Highway, near Kona Brewery, and the two events were unrelated. Two-way traffic was restored by 4:30 p.m. Sunday in the area of the spill on Kuakini.

“These breaks were in two different geographical areas,” the department said in an email to Big Island Now on Monday. “These pipes were not within the same utility corridor.”

The active spill was contained, all sewage was cleaned from the roadway’s surface and the affected portion of the roadway was disinfected with bleach. The sewage spilled was from residential, commercial and industrial customers, and the spill was contained before any could enter the ocean, the department said.

The county Department of Public Works was notified.

However, the sewer line in question has not not yet been fixed. DEM said repairs are estimated to take about two days. The bike lane and shoulder on the mauka side of the highway, fronting Brewery Block, will remain closed during repairs.

A contractor was mobilized by 9 a.m. Monday to proceed with emergency repairs. The DEM said the department chose to pump throughout the night Sunday to stop the active spill and do construction during the day, as doing the repair work during the day is safer for the contractor, department staff and motorists.

“Regular traffic and sewer service was able to be maintained,” the department added.

The official cause of the sewer line break had not been determined by noon Monday since the nearest entry point was 15 feet below grade and crews did not have the correct equipment to get a camera into the connection at that depth.

“After the existing sewer line is exposed by our contractor in area of the break, we will be able to determine the cause and get our camera into the line to further evaluate the sewer line’s condition,” the department said, adding the break could have been caused by recent earthquake activity but it’s difficult to identify the cause without excavation of the sewer line.

The department has experienced no previous problems with the sewer lines in this area and said crews will perform a condition assessment of the sewer line in question and identify other areas of concern. The department continually evaluates ways it can improve the wastewater collection system.

“We appreciate the public’s patience for this disruption on a Sunday afternoon and apologize for the mess,” the DEM said.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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