State behind in regular water testing at beaches - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

State behind in regular water testing at beaches

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The beach in front of Fort DeRussy is calm and good for swimming. It also hasn't been tested for contaminants in over a year.

"I don't think we should take that kind of a gamble, not testing the waters," Surfrider Foundation field coordinator Stuart Coleman said.

Last year the Department of Health took water samples from 144 beaches statewide. But many beaches were either untested or tested less frequently than what the state's plan calls for. It's a manpower issue.

"The limitation of federal funds matched with the state cutbacks that we've endured over the past few years reduced the amount of monitoring that we can do," said Gary Gill, deputy director of the Department of Health's Environmental Health branch.

The state only has five employees who do water testing, and one covers all of Oahu.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants to cut more money that will slash deeper into the state's water sampling program.

"The Surfrider Foundation works with DOH's Clean Water branch," Coleman said. "They have good people working there, but they're just understaffed and under-funded."

A recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council ranked Hawaii seventh in beach water quality out of 30 states. The report said bacteria levels at four percent of Hawaii's beaches exceeded national standards.

"Those are ones where we're actually focusing more," Gill said. "We're working with non-profit community groups to do additional testing. And we're looking upstream to see where the problems may be."

Coleman said without adequate testing capability and the funds to do it the state's in a dangerous place.

"These budget cuts at the national level are really penny wise and pound foolish," he said.

Gill admits there are certain beaches with chronic pollution problems, but there's no reason to panic over beaches that weren't sampled or sampled fewer times in 2011.

"The good side is we've done monitoring for so long we have a good idea of where the public health risks might be," he said. "On a sunny day, if there's no sewer line break, our water quality is the best in the world."