Blue Water Task Force, Water Quality, Illness
December 11 2013

Brown Water Advisories on Kaua’i:  Too little, too late?

by Mara Dias

On November 9th, BWTF volunteers from the Kaua'i Chapter went out during heavy rain to sample their regular water testing sites.  The next day, the HI State Department of Health (DOH) issued a Brown Water Advisory (BWA) because of the high levels of rain and runoff that often result in murky, polluted water conditions.  The Surfrider test results confirmed the severe pollution that the storm washed out to sea.  Thirteen out of 20 sites failed to meet public health standards, with some beaches measuring bacteria levels 30-96 times the standard.  See the Chapter's results and where they are testing here:  Kaua'i BWTF. 

The storm and water pollution captured the attention of local media.  The BWA was reported on first here:  'Brown' water warning - The Garden Island.

Since then, momentum has grown and media coverage has spread beyond Kaua'i to Oahu.  The Chapter has used this interest to express their concerns with how the Advisories are issued and how the public is notified.  Speaking on behalf of the Chapter, Dr. Carl Berg, their BWTF coordinator explains their position:

  1. The BWAs are not issued soon enough.   People could already be exposed to polluted water before a decision is made to issue an advisory.
  2. The BWAs often do not cover all affected beaches, and
  3. Surfers & beach-goers do not always know that an advisory has been issued.

The Chapter is advocating for signs to be posted at the beach when an Advisory is active, similar to those used by lifeguards to warn the public of hazardous currents and rough wave conditions.

This media buzz has also prompted the DOH Clean Water Branch that conducts Hawaii's beach water quality monitoring program to explain how they issue their advisories.  They hesitate to take action before a pollution problem is confirmed, but admit that their program is severly short-staffed and underfunded.  The DOH Beach program has only one staff available to collect water samples on the entire island of Kaua'i.

Hawaii is one of the states whose beach programs suffered significant state budget cuts after the economic down turn of 2008/2009.  Compounding this, all coastal state beach programs will receive less money through their federal EPA Beach grants in 2014 as across-the-board sequester cuts are applied.  The news only gets worse as the EPA Beach grants could potentially get eliminated completely the following year if Congress does not take action to restore funding for this critical public health program.

Take action to support beach water testing on Kaua'i and at beaches across the country, by asking Congress to continue funding the EPA Beach Grants program.  Click here.

Read what the media is saying about the Brown Water Advisories here:

Kaua'i: All washed up, Some question effectiveness of DOH advisories: The Garden Island

Oahu: State health officials too slow and vague with brown-water warnings, group says: Honolulu Star Advisor