//Hearing Update 2/27 – A Focus On Water

2/27 – A Focus On Water

The contested case hearing in Hilo reached the 40-day mark last week, and the end appears to be in sight.

As the hearing comes to a close, we continue to highlight some of the potential concerns that have come up during previous testimony. Today, we focus on water.

Project’s potential effect on Big Island aquifer and Lake Waiau: One of the biggest issues continually brought up by TMT opponents during the hearings was water, and whether the planned Thirty Meter Telescope will impact the island’s aquifer.

Hydrologist Tom Nance in December testified on behalf of the University of Hawaii that there is no reasonable prospect of adverse impact to the groundwater supply by the project. He stated that there are no wells extracting groundwater near the summit of Maunakea, and that the nearest wells are located approximately 12 miles away in Waikii Ranch along Saddle Road.

He pointed out that TMT will install a zero-discharge wastewater system, with all wastewater collected and transported off the mountain for proper treatment and disposal. Nance said even if a spill occurred, there would be no chance of groundwater infiltration because Maunakea’s porous lava structure would naturally treat and filter water percolating 13,000 feet downward from the summit.

During his testimony, Nance also 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: First, 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.

Second, the TMT observatory will be located on the opposite flank of Maunakea, so 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 his testimony. Taking into account those factors, “any contamination of groundwater is very unlikely,” he concluded.

In addition to mitigation measures regarding wastewater, TMT officials have also eliminated the use of mercury at the planned facility. Further safety measures will be installed at the facility, including double-walls for the observatory’s fuel storage area and piping, and electronic monitors to detect leaks.

The hearings continue tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday at the Grand Naniloa Hotel. With about 10 remaining witnesses yet to testify, it is yet to be determined whether additional days will be needed next week to complete the process.