There is no doubt that water is important but sometimes we take it for granted thinking it will always be there. Like petroleum, one day fresh water will become a scarce resource. We assume that the artesian wells that provide Oahu's fresh water will continue to be productive but ever since they've been tapped, in the 1940's, the levels have been decreasing. I recently got a chance to revisit the Board of Water Supply's Halawa Pumping Station since the last time was quite a while ago. Things haven't changed much. The trolley that takes you down the shaft still reminds me of a carnival ride. What is amazing is the fresh water that sustains all of us resides in pools deep in the earth. The system that replenishes this supply is well understood. But as the demands on these water resources grow, whether it be population growth or development, you can see the water levels drop from the 1940s to present. In addition to increased water usage there are the threats due to contamination. A recent revelation was the fuel storage facility located on Red Hill. These large containers of jet fuel are leaking and pose a threat to the Moanalua wells. Discussions for a remedy are ongoing between the BWS and Navy as this site visit might indicate, but it is still unclear what the solution is and a proposed settlement is still forthcoming. This will become an issue if not already. You can familiarize yourself with this project by reviewing the Administrative Order on Consent and the Statement of Work along with an archive of supporting documentation I helped to produce in collaboration with the Board of Water Supply.
It was almost two years ago when I got a chance to ride the Admiral's Barge in the vicinity of the Sea Based X-Band Radar or SBX. From the water it was huge but from land it seemed even bigger. For the past two years, every time I'd see the SBX sail? cruise? float? into town I would put my request into the Navy to see if I could bring on a group. I got pretty close late last year in 2011. Some emails went back and forth and the stars began to align. Then in early 2012 North Korea decided to launch their "communications" satellite. The next thing I notice, the SBX is gone. So when the SBX docked at Ford Island this past May, I reactivated by email thread and started the discussion again. Thanks to the Commander Navy Region Hawaii and the Missile Defense Agency, our request was granted. I assembled about a dozen interested social networkers, bloggers, photogs, videographers and tech enthusiasts to take part in this rare opportunity. Lt. Colonel Steve Braddom, Product Manager for the SBX, explains the size of the vessel in comparison to USS Nimitz air craft carrier. The SBX is about as high and wide as the Nimitz but about 1/3 the length. Climbing the 151 steps up to the deck was quite the experience and does give you a sense of its height. One of the interesting features of the SBX is the radome or what appears to be the big "golf ball" sitting on top of the platform. It is basically a huge balloon made of "high-tech synthetic fabric," filled with air at a pressure that keeps it inflated. Depending on the wind conditions the pressure is adjusted accordingly. It is reported that the radome can sustain wind speeds of 130 miles per hour. What is inside that radome is what piques my interest. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any recording devices into the radome to take pictures of the X-band phase array radar. Lt. Col. Braddom did say we could reference the photo below from the Missile Defense Agency's Flickr account. This is basically what we saw. It is quite impressive. The rotates enabling the radar to move 360 degrees. It is also able to tilt from this vertical position to a horizontal one. The original home base of the SBX was Adak, Alaska but for various reasons, one of which is fuel costs, whenever the SBX isn't in the waters off Asia, it's docked at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Apparently, Pearl Harbor's central location to the Pacific Region is big factor in attracting the SBX. Enjoy some of the posts from our band of tech geeks:
- Ryan Ozawa - Journey to the SBX
- Todd Ogasawara - Photos from a visit to the Missile Defense Agency's Sea-Based X-Band Radar Vessel
- Dallas Nagata-White - Facebook photo set
- Ricky Li - Facebook photo set
National Wildlife Refuge. I've assembled some of my favorite photos but you can see the entire set here. Midway is now home to some 18 species of birds. There are literally millions of albatrosses distributed somewhat evenly across every square meter of land. You cannot turn around without an albatross standing in your way. As we drove around in our golf carts, our island hosts were careful to go around the birds that claim the road as their nesting area. During the free time we had on island, I was able to commandeer a bicycle to ride around the entire island. Every where I turned nature dominated, from the terns and tropic birds in the air to the monk seals and turtles on the shore. If you stopped and listened you could not help but hear the cacophony of nature, pulsing with life. I found myself taking deep breaths all the time in order to absorb as much of this feeling as possible. It is hard to put into words. The life I saw there was abundant but it was not all joyous. With so many chicks, parent albatrosses are challenged to find enough food for their young. As many as 50% of the chicks we saw there won't make it to adulthood. On a hot day in June I saw many chicks that died from dehydration and malnutrition. But that is the reality of nature. Some will make it and many won't. But even in that sad realization I never felt so alive. It's testament to the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the natural habitat of Midway has recovered so nicely and preserved for future generations. The island personnel seemed genuinely responsible for the natural health of the island but the battle still rages on to maintain the natural habitat. One major undertaking is the removal of an invasive weed called Verbesina. This weed has taken over large portions of land area threatening bird nesting grounds. The USFWS also has plans to mitigate the non-native plants like iron wood and conduct plantings of native plants. There has already been an eradication of rats. As night fell we were treated to a spectacular sunset. The albatrosses skimmed over the surface of the ocean looking for their evening meal. No sooner did we arrived, then we had to leave. Again in the darkness of night, waiting for the birds to settle and clear the runway. As tired as I was I felt energized. We arrived back in Honolulu about 1am. I look back at these photos and I feel like it was a dream but it wasn't. I am just glad I got to experience Midway and feel encouraged that the work being done there will protect it for the future.
This past Monday, June 4, 2012 marked the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway. It was a major sea and air battle that marked the turning point in our war with Japan back in 1942. I was fortunate to be invited by the U.S. Navy, Pacific Fleet to attend the commemoration ceremonies on Sand Island, one of the main atolls in Midway. This interview with Adm. Cecil D. Haney, Commander of the Pacific Fleet took place at the grand opening of the Midway Atoll Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. You can listen to the interview here and read along to the transcript of the interview:
Bytemarks: I know Dan (Nakaso) asked you the same question and I wanted to get an idea direct from you and I didn't want to steal his quote. As far as the Navy supporting and commemorating Midway on a going forward basis, how important do you see this as being something that would be recognizing going forward? Adm. Haney: I think throughout my history we have always commemorated the battle of Midway and that will continue going forward because it is such a unique and part of our rich heritage and what we've all learned from. When you look at things of what we've learn from Navy aviation and celebrate it's 100 year anniversary, what we learned from code breaking and operational intelligence, how we've used it to our advantage and how we learned and even without the technology... it's really about the people their courage, their commitment and bravery that makes a difference as we fight wars tomorrow, when and if deterrence arise. Bytemarks: But each year there will be less and less people that have a connection with Midway you will always try to find their relatives or find some kind of connection to the people that fought here? Adm. Haney: What I find interesting even here although we only have two members that fought in the battle, the two veterans, we have a number of siblings, we have a number of kids, their fathers have fought in the battle. I thing that legacy will live on in itself in terms of people, not just us reaching out them but them reaching out to us as we continue to do celebrations in the future. Bytemarks: Do you think Midway has any Defense signification going forward? Adm. Haney: When you say Defense significance you mean... Bytemarks: I guess national security significance. Adm. Haney: I think as you look around here you will see Midway has transform itself from the base it was to a very tranquil wildlife environment. I am very thankful it has in that regard. Quite frankly it is a unique island strategically located and it did is job in World War II in terms of being a very strategic asset for us. We were able able to keep it as a result of the efforts of the Battle of Midway and quite frankly I am just as grateful to see its condition and where it is today. Bytemarks: It is really a nice preserve/reserve. I think it would be great to continue to recognized it as a turning point militarily and it such a natural reserve for the native life and native plant life. I think it is testament to how it has evolved over time. Adm. Haney: Very much so. I think when you look at this as a refuge, a wildlife refuge, just the whole business of its history, this building we are standing in here which gives you that. it really tells you that what we in the United States of America, what we in the United States military are all about and it's maintaining the peace. So to me this is nothing but success and it should be celebrated. Bytemarks: Thank you very much. Adm. Haney: Thank you.