By 2nd Lt. Darren Domingo
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
(Editor’s Note: “The Sun Never Sets” is a series dedicated to highlighting our Geographically Separated Units’ team members, their contributions to the mission and some of the unique aspects of their sometimes remote locations)
Imagine working at your job for eight months without a self-sustained water supply.
All the water amenities used every day for drinking, cooking, showering and flushing, would no longer be at the push of a button or the turn of a knob.
For Detachment 3, 21st Space Operations Squadron, stationed at Kaena Point, Hawaii, this was a reality.
Kaena Point, home of satellite control station HULA, and a Schriever geographically separated unit, was originally established as a radar site during World War II. It wasn’t until 1958 that the location became redesignated for satellite missions. Due to the unique geographic features of Kaena Point, Det. 3 has had a historic battle for attaining potable water since 1989.
“In 1989, the site began utilizing water coolers in order to have drinkable water and utilized the same type of water containers for hand washing/cooking,” said Maj. Robert Shumaker, Det. 3 commander. “While there was water for flushing toilets, fire suppression and irrigation, it was not drinkable.”
Initially, Det. 3’s facility drew water from Dillingham Air Field a few miles to the east. This effort was abandoned once a well was dug on their facility. When the well water quality went bad, Det. 3 returned to using the water lines from Dillingham, which in turn, went bad itself.
The struggle took another turn for the worst beginning in September 2012, when Kaena Point lost all of its water supply.
Lance Hayashi, Det. 3 Civil Engineering chief, and 18-year Kaena Point employee, was tasked with leading the effort to repair the water issues. For most, this would be a logistical nightmare, but Det. 3 continued to carry out its mission.
“Not only did we need to keep the mission going, but we wanted to look after the health and safety of the people,” said Hayashi.
Initially, HULA was able to get approximately 75,000 gallons of water trucked up to the site, which lasted only a few weeks until it ran out. At that point, personnel had to utilize water coolers heavily, as well as, use portable restrooms.
Hayashi explained how stressful the situation was for him and his team.
“It was chaotic,” said Hayashi. “A lot of people were asking when the water service would be put back on. [Dealing with the stresses] was something we needed to quickly learn and master over a short period of time to keep the mission going.”
Consider coming in from a hot sunny day after physical training and not being able to fill up your water bottle. Are you getting thirsty yet?
For years it seemed like having potable water at HULA was only a far-fetched dream.
During May 2013, teamwork made the dream work.
A combined effort lead by Hayashi, along with squadron and group funding, allowed the water line to finally be repaired.
Testing of the water began in the early spring of 2015, and by June, Shumaker declared the water potable with no bacteria.
The water line still pumps from its source at Dillingham Air Field.
“I think it’s important to understand that repairing this water line is no easy task,” said Shumaker.
The route of the 40-year old water line runs through a relatively flat area until the last two miles where it ascends to a 1,200-foot bluff. This creates a steep hike down for repairs on the three pump houses that push the water up to Kaena Point.
“The team is often forced to hike in, identify problems, hike out and hike back in with tools and materials — on foot,” said Shumaker. “To put it in a Colorado Springs perspective, imagine fixing a water line on The Incline with all your tools and materials at the top and going up and down on foot.”
Despite such challenges, many would agree having potable water is a well-deserved victory that has been fought many years for.
Although there are mixed emotions about actually drinking the water that was once considered “undrinkable,” as well as transitioning from having free water bottles provided, Hayashi believes people are slowly embracing the reality that the water is now good to consume.
“We don’t have to brief on which water sources are safe or not to drink,” said Hayashi. “I think people are excited about it.”
Alas, crisp water, finally available at the turn of those knobs — it’s a refreshing thought.