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Getting to the Source in Kaua’i

January 19 2010 | Blue Water Task Force, Water Quality, Illness,
by Mara Dias


By Coco Zickos - The Garden Island
Published: Monday, January 18, 2010 3:09 AM HST
• Editor’s note: This is the seventh article in an ongoing series which examines Kaua‘i water quality.

LIHU‘E — Chronically elevated levels of bacteria in water found in various locations around the island merit “frequent sampling and wastewater assessment,” Surfrider Foundation’s Dr. Carl Berg said.

During 2009, Surfrider volunteers collected water from 20 different stations across Kaua‘i and processed a total of 166 samples testing for bacterial counts.

“Most areas sampled were clean,” Berg said.

However, 10 stations exceeded what are deemed to be the state’s safe levels of enterococcus — a bacteria commonly found in the feces of humans and animals — at least once, Berg said.

Nawiliwili Stream, which feeds into Kalapaki Bay and as such is commonly known as Kalapaki Stream, tested high for each of the 12 samples taken throughout the year. Pakalas, on the Westside, exceeded safe levels for four of the 12 samplings. Waters off of Lydgate Park, on the Eastside, tested high four out of 10 times.

The averages for these sites suggest that Pakalas and Kalapaki Stream “are chronically polluted with human and/or animal wastes and deserve more frequent sampling and a wastewater assessment,” Berg said. “Waters off Lydgate are of concern because the Wailua waste water treatment plant discharges into the ocean in that area and the Wailua river flows to that area at times.”

Rainfall largely accounts for when “exceedances” most frequently occur. But linking the source to sites with continuously high counts of bacteria will require additional testing which goes beyond Surfrider’s “preliminary sampling,” Berg said.

“The next step is to have the Department of Health confirm and investigate possible sources,” he said Sunday.

The DOH currently samples some sites around the island twice a week, but only focuses on places that have “a lot of people with high recreational use,” DOH spokesperson Janice Okubo said.

When asked if the DOH attempts to discover the source of bacteria when it is found, Okubo said, “We try to.”

“Bacteria can be caused by many things, some natural,” she added.

Watson Okubo, monitoring and analysis section chief of the Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch, agreed.

“Inherently all streams in Hawai‘i have high bacterial counts. That’s the nature of streams,” he said when asked why samples collected by the DOH at Kalapaki are regularly taken in the middle of the bay rather than at the mouth of the stream.

“Taking samples at streams puts you in a position where you don’t know what you’re looking at,” he said last week. “We don’t take samples at the stream mouth, but away where people recreate.”

Sam Noble, owner of Lox Hawai‘i, has designed some 150 septic systems on Kaua‘i and said cesspools are still a “big part of Hawai‘i, especially this island.”

“Cesspools, which are also called ‘drywells,’ are underground holes used throughout Hawai‘i for the disposal of human waste,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site. “Raw, untreated sewage is discharged directly into the ground, where it can contaminate oceans, streams and ground water by releasing disease-causing pathogens and nitrates.”

All large-capacity cesspools (those which serve more than 20 individuals) had to be “closed and replaced with an alternative wastewater system by April 5, 2005,” according to EPA regulations.

“Cesspools are more widely used in Hawai‘i than in any other state in the country,” the Web site says.

Noble said it is difficult to see what is going into the ground water except on “days it’s flooding.”

“There’s no doubt” cesspools are contributing to chronic levels of bacteria in the water, especially when it rains, he said.

Noble has been attempting to assist individuals in upgrading their systems, as it is important to “get people to realize they have to upgrade” and “it’s a possibility residents” might soon be required to.

Though it may not seem like a financially feasible time to upgrade, it is actually an ideal time to install because “contractors don’t have as much work.”

“Guys are hungry,” so fees will likely be lower than usual, Noble said.

“It’s good for people to do this, but it’s an economic hardship,” he said.

Moving forward in 2010, Watson Okubo said the DOH will be issuing requests for proposals this year to address pollution run-off issues.

The EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 319 will likely provide funding for some “state and local nonpoint source efforts,” such as the Nawiliwili Watershed based plan, he said.

And though the Kaua‘i District DOH recently lost 10 employees, the Clean Water Branch has not yet been affected.

“We can’t allow budget cutbacks to stop the critical health and safety work that needs to be done,” county Department of Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo said. “We’ll continue working closely with the DOH as we have done in the past to take action on any findings in our beach parks.”

• Coco Zickos, business and environmental writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or czickos@kauaipubco.com.
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