77 Days for Safe Water: The Hawaiian Water Crisis

a large drop of water mid-splash with "77 Days for Safe Water: The Hawaiian Water Crisis" in text and MMC logo

77 days.

This was the number of days that we couldn’t drink the water in our home, and the crisis has not ended for many.

If you know anyone in Hawaii, it is all you talk about. If you don’t, we can blame limited media coverage on this catastrophic issue.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a fuel leak contaminated the water supply for 93,000 military personnel and their families during the last week of November 2021. For 77 days, our water was completely off limits. No showering, laundry, cleaning, cooking or drinking.

And we were the lucky ones.

Of the 19 impacted “zones,” ours was the first to be cleared on February 15, 2022. This means that every time we needed to shower, we packed up the four kids and headed to a hotel. Every time we needed to do laundry, we bagged it up, loaded it in the car, and hauled it to the laundry facility. If we wanted to drink water at our home, we loaded cases of bottled water from local staging areas.

Yes, the military provided resources to help families make it through the crisis. But what they couldn’t provide is peace of mind of having the fundamental security of clean water.

Throughout the Covid crisis, the fear of getting sick loomed as soon as you left the house. Everyone became comfortable staying home in order to stay safe. However, after the fuel leak, staying home was anything but safe.

soldier testing water from a large bottle in Hawaii during the 2021 water crisis
©️ Military.com

When we went to eat at a restaurant, my five-year-old would ask, “Is the water safe to drink here?” before she would take a sip of water. If we were at a store and stopped for a bathroom break, she would pause before washing her hands and ask, “Is it safe for me to wash my hands?”

This sucked.

It all sucked.

There was nothing we could do except wait. Fortunately, military life has given us a lot of practice with this.

We wait at home after long days during an exercise. We wait for a deployment to finally end. We wait for the next assignment and orders to arrive.  These were the normal “waits” that we expect with the military, but waiting to have clean water was never something that I thought would be added to this list.

All lines were flushed, and the water was tested through a massive collaboration between the military, the Department of Health, and the Environmental Protection Agency. They declared our home safe again since results were back within normal limits.

When I think of those 77 days and how difficult this water crisis was, I also feel fortunate that it was relatively short. Imagine how the people of Flint, Michigan dealt with this for years. Their cries for intervention and answers were unmet, and I am grateful to not be in the same situation.

But this water crisis was still awful, inconvenient, and scary. The aftermath is still present in our lives.

person holding up a glass of clear waterMy daughter continues to ask if the water is safe. I don’t know what to tell her. I have zero desire for anyone in my family to drink the water.

I guess we’ll just keep waiting. We’re pretty good at that.

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Melissa Godinez
Melissa is an Air Force spouse who enjoyed 13 years living along the I-35 corridor in North Dakota, Louisiana, and Texas. The Air Force gods finally broke her free of the Central Time zone this summer and sent the family to Hawaii - just five weeks after baby #4 arrived! She works remotely for a non-profit in Louisiana as the Director of Technology and Strategic Operations and is currently pursuing her Project Management certification. Her oldest son (age 9) has Down Syndrome, and her oldest daughter (age 7) has an undiagnosed genetic disorder, so there are a lot of therapy and medical appointments; however, the chaos is balanced with weekly trips to the beach, hikes, and trying new restaurants.