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Puna groundwater study funding sought

HILO, Hawai‘i — The impacts of Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) on Puna’s groundwater could be the subject of a nearly $500,000 federal study being proposed by a Hawai‘i County Council member.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz will introduce at Tuesday’s meeting of the County Council’s Finance Committee a nonbinding resolution seeking to fund a $428,000 study by the U.S. Geological Survey about the conditions of lower Puna groundwater sources in an effort to determine whether they have been compromised by the geothermal facility near Leilani Estates.

Kierkiewicz said the proposed study is a follow-up to the 2013 Adler Report, a document by consultant Peter Adler that was intended to determine the health impacts of PGV on the surrounding communities.

However, Kierkiewicz said, the most salient conclusion of the Adler Report was that there wasn’t sufficient data about the subject and further research would be necessary.

But while the USGS conducted similar groundwater studies in 2015 and 2020 — which did not find sufficient evidence to “unequivocally indicate adverse effects from geothermal energy production,” according to the resolution — that was the last official investigation into the matter amid mounting community distrust of PGV.

“We just don’t have the data to confirm or refute any of these concerns,” Kierkiewicz said Friday.

Puna resident Paul Kuykendall said the 2015 USGS study was “not as comprehensive as it could have been,” and only examined a handful of wells, and not any source located downslope of PGV.

Kuykendall said the groundwater in Puna takes the form of a freshwater lens located above seawater deeper below the earth.

“We don’t have rivers here other than rivers of lava,” he told the Tribune-Herald.

PGV’s geothermal wells penetrate through that lens into deeper strata but should, in theory, not compromise the water quality.

But, Kuykendall went on, accidents happen. A 1991 well blowout at PGV could have introduced contaminants into the lens, he said, adding that even if no sign of contamination was detected in 2015, it could take up to 30 years for contaminants to filter through a series of natural dikes into the freshwater layer.

Kierkiewicz said the new study, if approved, will target additional freshwater sources and search for a broader array of contaminants than the 2015 study.

The study also will get residents involved. Kierkiewicz said she hopes to get Kuykendall and other community members to join USGS researchers during their investigations so residents will be able to take follow-up measurements on their own.

“I know there’s not a lot of trust in the community, but there’s also a desire to learn about how this works,” Kierkiewicz said.

And if the study determines that PGV is causing groundwater contamination, Kierkiewicz said the community will cross that bridge when it comes to it.

“We’re looking at unknown territory,” Kierkiewicz said. “PGV has its own data sets based on what they’re required to disclose. At least this way, we’ll have an independent study.”

The Finance Committee will convene Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.

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Reporter Michael Brestovansky can be reached at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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