Freshwater contamination in Hawaii and the Marianas


Red Hill and Navy ineptitude in Hawaii

The U.S. Navy has maintained and operated a fuel supply and distribution system that has been in place for decades on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. Military residents living in Oahu became alarmed last month after experiencing their drinking and tap water smelling like jet fuel. This most recent episode of freshwater contamination is one of several that have taken place over the years, tied to jet fuel leaks from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage facility operated by the U.S. Navy in Oahu.

Media reports claim that the levels of petroleum hydrocarbons diesel range organics have exceeded 350 times the acceptable benchmark levels for human health, safety, and exposures as outlined by Hawaii state officials. Gasoline range organics are reportedly close to 70 times above acceptable levels.

Hawaii state officials responded by shutting down one of the major freshwater wells out of fear that one freshwater shaft may have been poisoned.

Red Hill, what it is

Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is a high-altitude World War II-era pipeline infrastructure system that holds and distributes jet fuel from 20 tanks having a total capacity of up to 250 million gallons. Over 1 million gallons of fuel from this facility have leaked over the past several years.

Over 90,000 residents have been directly impacted and several thousand have been relocated because of this jet fuel leak. The Navy is also impacted because over 60% of the water wells providing up to 22 million gallons of fresh water for Navy needs daily have been shut down.

All branches of the U.S. armed forces and Hawaii state government organizations rely on Red Hill for their jet fuel storage and transmission needs.

Historical snapshot

Red Hill has been a longstanding cause of concern because this site sits about 100 feet above a groundwater aquifer that supplies over 70% of Oahu’s total drinking water source.

The Hawaii Department of Health recommended over a decade ago that the Navy put in place a leak detection system and groundwater monitoring well system to protect the drinking water.

In this current crisis, Hawaii state officials, including the governor and state lawmakers, have ordered the Navy to defuel and remove all storage tanks that make up Red Hill and install water treatment systems. The Navy has yet to comply with state orders and is working with state officials to continue operating Red Hill.

The Navy thinks Red Hill should remain operational up through 2045.

Why the Chamorros of the Marianas need to pay very close attention to freshwater risks seen in Hawaii

We need to pay very close attention to Red Hill because what has been happening in Hawaii has happened in Guam (military-related freshwater contamination) and can happen again.

We need to know the full and complete extent of past contamination done to our sole freshwater aquifer system by the Air Force. We need to know the full and complete extent of past contamination of our freshwater resources by the Navy.

We need to know the full extent of environmental work completed to clean up, if at all, closed water wells in Guam. We need to demand that the Pentagon explain in complete detail all its plans to protect Guam’s water lens. We need to ask what efforts have been or are being made to fully retrofit all portions of fuel storage systems on island that serve the Pentagon. We need to know why Navy fuel system leaks were promptly repaired in North America but remain unresolved in Hawaii, knowing that the leaks in North America were not located directly above underground freshwater systems.

We need to know why the Guam and CNMI congressmen are not holding public hearings and meetings to see what can be learned from the Red Hill debacle. We need to know why Guam and CNMI officials have not vigorously pursued recent efforts to learn about jet fuel leaks and human health risks associated with groundwater contamination that have been and are taking place in Hawaii.

We need to know the nature, number, and age of all monitoring wells Guam and the CNMI currently have. We need to know what the percentage-based probabilities of specific levels of jet fuel leakage are currently being referenced in Guam and the NMI.

We need to know what the Guam and CNMI governor’s plan to do to prevent anything like Red Hill from happening in the Marianas. We need to know what the CNMI and Guam legislatures plan to do to prevent a Red Hill-like scenario from taking place in the Marianas. We need to know what specific appropriation language the Guam and CNMI congressmen plan to introduce to prevent a Red Hill-type situation from taking place.

Any notion that the Pentagon can have an exemption on freshwater contamination practices into perpetuity is folly. Chamorros of the Marianas have a major incentive to pay very close attention to how the Navy behaves in Hawaii when it comes to freshwater contamination.

Rick Arriola Perez | Author
Rick Arriola Perez is a U.S. military veteran who has worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Bank of Hawaii, and the government of Guam. He holds several degrees including ones from UCLA and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Rick is passionate about national security and foreign affairs in the Pacific Asia region and runs a blogsite called Guam Affairs at For more information, contact Perez at

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