02 • 03 • 2020
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 supporting SB 2984 that requires the HDOH to:
- Ensure that water quality sampling adequately includes local beaches and is not biased towards tourist beaches.
- Post health warning signs at beaches during Brown Water Advisories to provide better warning to unsuspecting beachgoers.
- Sample coastal waters during Brown Water Advisories.
- Fill the Environmental Management Division's Chief of Staff position that has been vacant for more than two years.
- Protect public health and the public's right to know if coastal waters are clean and safe.
In addition to Senate Bill 508, we are seeking these changes through department-lead public comment processes and outreach to EPA through their oversight of the state's federal BEACH Act grant.