Hearing Update 12/13
With water issues being a huge part of the debate over the Thirty Meter Telescope, a hydrologist testified at the contested case hearings in Hilo to provide his expertise and findings on the matter.
Tom Nance, a private hydrologist with 27 years of experience, reviewed the TMT project’s environmental impact statement regarding water, wastewater and drainage issues as related to the planned observatory.
Water and wastewater have been contentious issues during the TMT planning process, with some opponents claiming publicly that the Thirty Meter Telescope will taint the Big Island’s aquifer.
Based on his hydrology analysis, Nance refuted those claims, concluding that the Thirty Meter Telescope will not impact the Big Island’s water resources.
TMT attorney Douglas Ing was the first to cross-examine Nance and asked him a simple question: “Based on your findings, would TMT impact or harm the island aquifer?”
Nance responded, “No, it is not physically possible.”
Nance testified that TMT is already being designed to leave zero waste on the mountain. Being built as a total closed wastewater system, meaning all waste will be collected and transported down the mountain for treatment and/or disposal at a proper facility elsewhere.
Nance then addressed questions on the possibility of accidental wastewater runoffs on the mountain, including one to the nearest water source on Maunakea: Lake Waiau.
Nance said any potential wastewater runoff from TMT reaching Lake Waiau 1.5 miles away would be geographically impossible for two reasons: One is the lake is in a depressed area surrounded by volcanic ridges that encloses the area, meaning any surface water runoff into the lake would come from within the crater rim.
The second is because the TMT observatory would be located on the opposite flank of Maunakea, any potential spill would flow in the opposite direction of the lake. There are also no developed water channels or evidence of overland water flow in the area, he noted.
“Even if something did spill, it would not be able to migrate to Lake Waiau because of the geographic makeup,” Nance explained during cross-examination.
In responding to a potential wastewater spill during the transporting of wastewater down the mountain, Nance said even if one occurred, there would be no chance of groundwater infiltration.
The composition of Maunakea’s porous lava structure would naturally treat and filter water percolating downward, he explained. In summary, any potential discharge on the summit 13,000 feet up would be treated and filtered through thousands of feet of the porous lava material, removing any contamination in that discharge by the time it reaches groundwater.
Nance also noted that there are no wells extracting groundwater near the summit of Maunakea, with the nearest wells located approximately 12 miles away in Waikii Ranch along Saddle Road.
Taking into account those factors, “any contamination of groundwater is very unlikely,” Nance concluded.
In addition to mitigation measures regarding wastewater, TMT officials have also eliminated the use of mercury project-wide. Adding further safety measures, the observatory’s fuel storage area and piping will be double-walled and equipped with leak monitors.
Based on Nance’s expertise on water issues, his cross-examination period was completed by the end of today’s hearing. The hearings continue at the Grand Naniloa Hotel on Friday.