Tainted By Terrorism
If terrorists were to contaminate Oahu’s drinking water, they would have to tap underground aquifers, where the water is stored. It would be much easier for terrorists to infect the U.S. mainland’s water supply, which is kept in open reservoirs.
However, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply (HBW) isn’t taking chances. On Feb. 15, 2002, the HBW and the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Hawaii began a two-year study to develop a water-monitoring plan to detect hazardous biological and chemical agents in Oahu’s water supply. Existing tests by the HBW only detect coliform bacteria, which is an indicator of sewage contaminants. But those tests are slow and ineffective. “If terrorists were to put in some other kind of agent – let’s say salmonella, hepatitis or smallpox – you will not pick it up in testing for coliform,” says Dr. Roger S. Fujioka, university professor and the study’s principal investigator.
Fujioka and his team have secured a $250,000 grant to purchase equipment that can detect hazardous contaminants in just a few hours. HBW personnel also are being trained in the two-year study. “There is no plan approved by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or anybody else, but we’re still proceeding anyway, step by step,” Fujioka says. Since there is no nationally established study for water utilities to avoid terrorist attacks, each state’s utility is responsible for its own water source. “We know terrorists can find a way,” Fujioka says. And if terrorists do find a way to contaminate the water supply, Hawaii would be on its own, anyway.
Drinking water is precious. That is why some companies have stopped using it to irrigate crops and run industrial plants. One of those companies is Kalaeloa Partners. Four years ago, it began using reverse-osmosis water to run its co-generation power plant in Kapolei city. The plant – which powers 20 percent of Oahu homes – generates 180 megawatts of the electricity for Hawaiian Electric Inc. and 90 percent of the steam for Tesoro Hawaii’s local refinery.
“We’re not running at full load; it depends on demand and contractual issues,” says Hans R. “Ruedi” Tobler, general manager of the plant. Still, the switch to reverse-osmosis water saves the company half-a-million gallons of drinking water per day.