WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Ala Wai Canal has been the butt of plenty of jokes but now seven years later the city is removing the sewage bypass pipe from the canal and with it the constant reminder of the worst sewage spill in state history.
It was March 2006 following 40 days and 40 nights of rain when Waikiki's sewer system was overwhelmed. As a result 48 million gallons of raw sewage was flushed into the Ala Wai Canal.
"We never want that to happen again. It became national news. It was reported on morning news shows, it really impacted tourism and it affected health and safety of our residents and visitors alike," said Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Mayor.
Over the past seven years the city has been building a state of the art sewer system becoming the first in the country to build an underground "S" curve pipe that goes underwater twice. And it's finally finished.
"Yes it took awhile. I think it had to take that time because of the complexity of it, the technological parts of it," said Mayor Caldwell.
The project cost was just under $40 million, which comes with a backup plan to handle any future catastrophe.
"If it does happen again we can shut down a pipe immediately and divert the sewage into this second pipe that's why we did it," said Mayor Caldwell. "I'd like to assure them while there was some disruption and some visual impact, the long term is they now have a system that should something bad happen to the main force main we can divert sewage into this new redundant very large pipe."
"Seeing it completed now gives us assurances that we will no longer have to worry about sewage spilling into the Ala Wai," said Bob Finley, Waikiki Neighborhood Board Chair.
That means the old bypass pipe isn't needed so the city will be removing it from the canal. Of course that doesn't mean people should swim in the Ala Wai. The city will stop testing bacteria levels once the work is finished. That duty will go back to the state.
"The Ala Wai canal has still got too much bacteria in it. What people don't realize is that bacteria is not from sewage, it's from decomposing plant matter and runoff," said Rick Egged, Waikiki Improvement Association. "I think it's important that longer term we come up with a solution for how to keep the Ala Wai clean."
As for the project, neighbors are thrilled about what's coming down the pipe, especially Iolani School. It adopted the softball field decades ago and spent thousands every year maintaining the field. But it was city property, so the city took it over in 2006 to store construction equipment in what was the outfield.
"We're still unclear on how the rehab of the field is going to occur but hopefully it will be done right," said Carl Schroers, Iolani School Athletic Director. "It's not our property. We're going to be patient. We're not going to be bad citizens. It had to get done. This is an extremely important thing and we're happy it's getting close to being completed. We're going to be as patient as it takes."
The old bypass pipe is expected to be removed within the next 45 days and then the walking and biking path that has also been closed for seven years is scheduled to be rehabbed and reopened by the end of the year.
The city expects minimal impact to paddlers who use the canal.
There are also plans to build an off leash dog park in the area. That is still preliminary but Mayor Caldwell says it is something he is working on.