State spending $3 million to finally fix water issues at Hāpuna Beach park on Big Island
Water service at Hāpuna Beach State Recreation Area on the west coast of the Big Island has been off and on more than three dozen times since 2018 due to repeated breaks in its underground lines.
The state Division of State Parks has decided, after spending a lot of time and money trying to remedy chronic leaks, that it needs to look at a more long-term fix rather than the “band-aid fixes employed over the past five years,” according to a news release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources that oversees the division.
The Division of State Parks brings water into the park from a Hawai‘i County line for restrooms, showers and drinking.
Hāpuna is equally popular with residents and visitors. Not unexpectedly, the shut-down of the system last October created a “water-storm” of complaints, criticism and comments.
“There have been 41 attempts at correcting issues with leaks,” said David Arnado, the new Hawai‘i District Superintendent for the division. “Until last fall we cut around the leaks and spliced the pipes back together. Each fix would last a month or two before a new leak sprung. With the last leak that required the current, extended shutdown, the fix lasted two or three seconds.”
At the park’s entrance, orange fencing surrounds the location of the final straw in this saga; a crumbling two-foot-wide hole in the asphalt.
“We isolated this leak at the top of the park and the hole was the first sign,” Arnado said. “You can’t see a leaky pipe at this location, so water migrated from a broken or compromised pipe somewhere nearby. The decision was made that after spending a lot of time and money trying to remedy chronic leaks, we needed to look at a more feasible option.”
A short-term fix involves running water lines on the ground to provide water at two sets of restrooms on the beach and showers there. This solution has some challenges, including protecting the pipe during high surf.
The short-term fix is expected to be in place within a few months. The division also is evaluating additional quick fixes to the existing system, but with no assurances of how long that will last.
The longer-term, much costlier fix is predicted not to be finished at least until the end of 2024. Engineering studies have begun, and the division is making sure the final design of a new system fully analyzes what caused repeated failures of the current system that was installed in 2009. The legislature has allocated approximately $3 million to reconstruct the entire system. Those funds were released last year.
“Engineers need to determine the mode of the waterline failure, remedies and types of piping,” Arnado said. “We have to look at everything, so it doesn’t continue happening. Then we’ll get a rough cost estimate and begin the required procurement process which includes the results of the investigation, bid document preparation, contractor solicitations, and hopefully construction beginning in about a year.”
The process includes many checks and balances, including ensuring it is compliant with the Hawai‘i Department of Health regulations.
An open hole at the edge of Hāpuna’s long, wide beach provides evidence of several other breaks. Splices in the pipe are evident, with two pipes visible. The second one is for the park’s non-potable irrigation water, which can’t be used for people.
“The irrigation line is made of the same material, but it hasn’t had as many problems,” Arnado said.
“We understand everyone’s frustration and I try to help them understand. I live in the community, and I hear from visitors and my neighbors. People want a fast fix and that makes it hard to understand the process. About half are satisfied with my explanation and the other half want to talk to someone above me.”
That is Division of State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell, who is well-aware of boiling frustration at Hāpuna. He said in the news release: “We are fully committed and working as fast as we can to restore potable water service to Hāpuna.”