BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – The City & County of Honolulu reports there were an estimated 14 sewage spills during the heavy rainstorm last weekend, at least four of which the state says happened in the windward community of Kailua where President Obama and his family are staying this holiday season.
Those sewage overflows rose from waterlogged manholes and went into the Kaelepulu Stream, which is one of two major waterways in the Kailua district. No total for the sewage gallon count total has been posted yet.
The stream comes from Kaelepulu pond and wetland, which goes through Enchanted Lakes, a division of Kailua, and stops just feet short of the ocean.
Historically, at least once a month, the city opens the mouth of the stream via tractors moving the sand around, and the workers let the pollution runoff and brown water that has accumulated go unfiltered into Kailua Bay. This is the beach once rated the number one beach in the country, but no longer gets the ranking. The reason the city officials do this? The fresh water, which goes by homes built in the area, will get too polluted if they don’t.
The ocean current, which in Kailua brings everything to shore, not out to sea, quickly takes the brown water from the mouth of the canal throughout Kailua Bay, landing on the other side of the beach. I know this because I grew up on this beach, swim and surf here, and take our kids in these waters. I have seen many storms pass through and watch the ocean patterns and currents closely to see where debris – and sometimes dead seabirds and fish – land.
While some scientists say this dredging hasn’t impacted the water quality, many a local swimmer, paddler and surfer who grew up in Kailua will admit to staff infections or gastro-intestinal illnesses, perhaps from a swim at the wrong place at the right time of the month.
No one in government has ever looked for a way to do this dredging differently, even though Kailua residents have pleaded with them for years and threatened lawsuits to change the practice.
This dumpling and dredging is relevant this week, especially because of the sewage spill that has been forced into the ocean by city officials. Officials still don’t know how many gallons of sewage entered the canal, but they let it out in to the ocean anyway.
In addition, residents and visitors are on Christmas holiday, and want to enjoy the ocean and it is even more brown than it was after the initial rain storm.
To top it off, President Barack Obama and his family are visiting the islands, and in fact, are staying right on Kailua beach in the homes where the brown water, bubbles and all, will finally land.
The state says it has done its part, issuing a brown water warning and telling people to stay out of the water.
The city has in fact posted warning signs in Japanese and English at various beach spots.
These signs naturally have not stopped some tourists from swimming anyway – many interviewed by Hawaii Reporter as they exited the exact spot where the sewage and sediment filled canal was being discharged into the ocean, said they hadn’t seen the signs and were not aware of the sewage spill they just swam in.
The question for city and state is why did the canal purposely get opened into the ocean after the sewage spills so that the sewage went into the ocean, likely impacting ocean life and people swimming, even when the full impact is unknown?
A spokesperson for the state environmental services division defends the city, saying it had to choose between allowing the area to flood if there was more rain this week, and dumping the canal water into the ocean.
He asked this reporter to choose between “saving lives and property” and “giving swimmers a gastrointestinal illness” (Really? Those are the choices? I asked.)
The city environmental services department defended its actions by saying city officials posted numerous warning signs along Kailua’s extensive three mile beach.
To the city’s credit, after a call from Hawaii Reporter noting the swimmers in the canal, the city sent two workers holding 8×10 warning signs down there to shout out at the swimmers (unfortunately the swimmers could not hear them or read the signs from several feet away). The lifeguard didn’t try to get the swimmers out at all. The state says the lifeguard’s job is to save lives, not stop people from swimming in contaminated waters.
Even with the president and national media here, and an Environmental Protection Agency consent decree forcing them to clean up their act, lawsuits and threats of lawsuits, the city and state still haven’t changed their practices of dredging the canal, and unfortunately, the people and ocean life continue to suffer.
American innovators put people on the moon, built jet planes and rocketships and the automobile. Doesn’t someone know of a better way to filter the water before it goes out to sea?
With all the national news in town focusing on the president and his family and the houses they are staying in and the shave ice they are eating, it is surprising that no news networks besides Hawaii News Now and Hawaii Reporter are asking these questions and noting that the local government is intentionally dumping sewage at the beach where president and family are vacationing.
Aloooooo – ha! … Mr. President.