Blue Water Task Force, Source Identification, Updates, Beach Act, Water Quality, Illness, Public Notification
March 31 2016

Surfrider Responds to Hawai’i Department of Health Sanitary Survey

by Mara Dias

The Surfrider Foundation is pleased that the Hawai’i Department of Health (HDOH) has finally released their initial investigation findings into the sources of bacteria pollution in Waiopili Stream, Kauai. Unfortunately, HDOH refuses to take the common sense measures of posting health warning signs at the Waiopili Stream and other chronically polluted streams on Kauai and at beaches across the state where bacteria levels exceed health standards and beachgoers are at risk of getting sick.

Surfrider disagrees with many of the conclusions made by HDOH in their Sanitary Survey for the Waiopili Stream.

  1. Waiopili Stream is not a ditch, but a stream that is a popular recreation site where it flows across the beach before it discharges into the ocean. Surfrider’s Kaua’i Chapter tests this site monthly and frequently sees families with children playing in the stream water. KITV video coverage filmed just yesterday shows two children with their mother recreating in this stream.
  2. Animal sources of fecal pollution pose a human health risk and public notification is still warranted.  Neither the BEACH Act, nor EPA’s BEACH Act Guidance, distinguish between human and non-human sources of pollution for posting purposes.  Notification is required for all incidents of pollution -- regardless of the source. For instance, feral pigs have been identified in the Waiopili Stream watershed.  Pigs are known carriers of Leptospira bacteria that can cause Leptospirosis in humans -- leading to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death, if left untreated.
  3. HDOH’s conclusion that there are no human sources of contamination is not substantiated by their own data showing high levels of Enterococcus bacteria and a secondary Clostridium perfringens bacteria indicaotr, and by analysis of RNA showing Human Factors (HF138). The HDOH deceptively states in their press release that their survey found no human sources for the high bacteria levels in Waiopili Stream. The survey report actually states that they found no sewer lines, injection wells or cesspools discharging directly into the stream, but there was a sewage application site in use in the watershed for 11 years which only stopped as recently as 2014. The contaminants from this site will likely continue to percolate into the soil and move with the groundwater into the surrounding area for years to come.

As HDOH’s Sanitary Survey notes, there are also numerous injection wells and cesspools in the adjacent Poipu/Koloa watershed, which is connected to the Waiopili Stream through groundwater and potentially through volcanic caves. The survey report states "groundwater may carry wastewater contaminants from the Poipu/Koloa watershed which may impact the waters of the Mahaulepu watershed, including the Waiopili Ditch".  USGS has found chemical markers of these sources reaching the stream. Additional tests are proposed, but HDOH will not have results available for another 3-6 months, meanwhile the stream is not posted.

Given these sources and the pending results, how can HDOH come to the conclusion that there are no human sources of pollution and therefore signage is not required?

In conclusion, the Surfrider Foundation finds that the Hawai’i Department of Health is failing to protect public health by not posting signs to warn people of high bacteria levels in the Waiopili Stream, at Gillin’s Beach and in other coastal waters around Kaua’i and the state. The public needs to have information available on where it is safe to get into the water and where they are at risk of getting sick. 

Surfrider urges the HDOH to immediately post signs to warn the public whenever bacteria standards are not being met.