Maui News

Water Violation at Makawao System Attributed to Mechanical Error

July 22, 2020, 9:42 AM HST
* Updated July 22, 9:45 AM
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Some 6,700 customers on the Makawao water system were being notified this month of a water violation in which the department “failed to provide the appropriate level of treatment” in May of 2020.

County Communications Director Brian Perry tells Maui Now that the situation did not cause a public health threat, and if it had been an emergency, the public would have been notified within 24 hours.  The county’s operating permit requires notification to the state Department of Health, along with a public notice.

In a notice distributed this month, the department advised: “Although this is not an emergency, as our customers, you have a right to know what happened, what you should do, and what we are doing to correct this situation.”

What Happened?

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According to county officials the violation occurred on May 16, 2020, when “a small amount of filter cleaning solution inadvertently entered the system, due to a mechanical error.”

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“This caused water samples to exceed the turbidity standard for 11 minutes. Turbidity has no health effects, but rather can interfere with the disinfection process,” said Perry.

The department notes that turbidity can interfere with disinfection, but county officials say that in this case, it did not.  It can also provide a medium for microbial growth.

County officials say the violation involved water that was being tested for turbidity (clarity) before it went into a 3 million-gallon storage tank. Water in the tank was then disinfected with chlorine as part of the routine water treatment process.

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The water department is required to demonstrate on a daily basis that it provides adequate disinfection and filtration to remove and inactivate microorganisms such as Giardia lamblia and other viruses or disease-causing microorganisms that may be present in the raw water source.

What Should You Do?

The county reports that the incident did not affect the water quality leaving the plant and provided to Makawao system customers.

The notice advises that customers do not need to boil their water or take any other corrective actions; however, if there are specific health concerns, the department advises consultation of a doctor.  

The notice further states, “If you have a severely compromised immune system, have an infant, are pregnant, or are elderly, you may be at increased risk and should seek advice from your health care providers about drinking water. General guidelines on ways to lessen the risk of infection by microbes are available from EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1 (800) 426-4791.”

Actions to Prevent a Reoccurrence:

According to notice, the department “immediately isolated and flushed the filter cleaning solution” from the system to reduce the turbidity level and return water to compliance.  The department has also repaired/replaced two faulty components in the filtration system that the department reports contributed to the malfunction.

In addition to activating an alarm, the department is also working with state officials to update its Standard Operating Procedures and train staff to prevent a repeat of the incident.

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