02 • 03 • 2020

Improve Testing & Public Notification at Hawaii Beaches

Improve the Hawaii Department of Health's beach monitoring and public notification program

The Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) runs a beach monitoring program and issues advisories when bacteria levels exceed the health standard.  HDOH also issues Brown Water Advisories (BWAs) to warn beachgoers of polluted stormwater at the beach during rain and flooded conditions.  The HDOH program, however, leaves public health at risk in many instances by prioritizing the testing of popular tourist beaches when they are clean over community favored recreational areas where there are pollution concerns. Also, BWAs are also only posted online, so often beachgoers are unaware of the potential threat of pollution, especially visitors.  Worse, while BWAs are in effect, HDOH suspends all water testing activity, even when advisories extend for days and weeks at a time.  This has resulted in very little information available that describes water quality conditions at Hawaii's beaches during wet weather.  

Through comprehensive and long-term testing by the Blue Water Task Force on the three islands - Kauai, Oahu and Maui- Surfrider has generated ample information to demonstrate that a reallocation of HDOH sampling resources is justified to be most protective of coastal recreation and public health.  Surfrider chapters in Hawaii are asking the HDOH for the following improvements to their beach program:

  • Change the beach Tiering/prioritization system to be more responsive to community concerns and citizen-generated data that illustrate high bacteria levels at lower tiered beaches.  Pollution issues and health concerns should rank at least as high as use when HDOH decides how frequently to test HI beaches.  
  • Stop 'stopping' beach testing during BWAs.  HDOH should continue their regular beach monitoring schedule when BWAs are issued to better define the impact of storm events on recreational waters and to post physical signs at the beach to warn the public of the associated health risk.  
  • Posting signage at beaches and coastal recreational waters that are chronically polluted to better provide better warning to unsuspecting beachgoers.

We are seeking these changes through state legislation, department-lead public comment processes, and outreach to EPA through their oversight of the state's federal BEACH Act grant.

Clean Water