Millions of dollars will be spent on the massive Red Hill fuel tanks, but after a leak in January some fear the money may not be enough to keep our drinking water safe.
Ever since an estimate 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked out of the Red Hill underground storage tanks, the Navy has been busy reassuring the public drinking water has not been contaminated.
"We want to let the public know the water is safe and we have modern systems inside Red Hill. It is operated safely and professionally," said Capt. Mike Williamson, with the U.S. Navy Region Command.
Seventeen pinhole defects were found inside one of the recently refurbished tanks as the potential source of the leak. Now the Navy is talking about what will be done to make sure future leaks are prevented. The Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency also want to make sure spilled fuel doesn't reach the drinking water supply.
"Clean up of fuel in a fractured rock environment is quite difficult, so we are looking to bring in some outside expertise. We are also trying to find some expertise on those big tanks. To find out what technologies are available to improve the facility," said Steven Linder, with the EPA's Underground Storage Tanks Program.
Unlike modern fuel tanks, built with double layers and additional lining to prevent leaks, the 20 massive tanks in Red Hill were built 70 years ago. Each one is steel, as big as a 20-story building and encased in concrete.
There have been leaks before. While the Navy downplayed the amount of fuel that was released, there were 41 leaks in one 40-year time period.
All but one tank also has fuel stains in the basalt rock below the concrete casing.
"I'm still worried because there are chemicals in the groundwater and eventually it is going to get into the water supply. I'm just worried about what happens when that happens, and what we can do about it," said Salt Lake resident Ruth Modisette.
Modisette and other concerned residents came out for an informational meeting Tuesday evening to learn more about the leak and the Navy's future prevention efforts: Adding two more monitoring wells on the north side of the tanks, in case spilled fuel from this leak or others is headed toward Halawa, and adding more monitoring equipment inside the storage tanks.
The two new monitoring wells are expected to be in place this fall, and by November the Navy aims to award contracts for an advanced leak detection study as well as a secondary containment study.
The Navy will also spend $60 million over the next two years to refurbish more tanks, but no additional protective layers are expected to be added during that time.
Which leaves some with worries about the safety of our drinking water.
"The waters from these wells are a lifeblood. If these wells were to go bad, there would be few other options. It would be critical," said Jonathan Starr, a member of the state Water Resource Commission.