HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Department of Health directed the city to post warning signs at Kailua Bay for possible large amounts of bacteria in the water near the wastewater treatment plant.
DOH said that the city has been discharging wastewater that exceeds the bacteria limits since Feb. 18 and that the violation was first reported by the city on Feb. 20.
Under state permitting, the city is authorized to discharge up to 15.25 million gallons of wastewater a day into Kailua Bay. This is equivalent to 27 Olympic size swimming pools.
According to the city, the Kailua Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant discharges treated effluent through an outfall that is located 3,500 feet from the shore, and 105 feet below the surface of the water.
More than a week after the exceedance of wastewater was detected, the DOH directed the city to post warning signs and to test samples of the coastal waters in the area.
Shoreline samples taken on Feb. 24 did not show increased bacteria levels, but the city posted signage on Friday due to the location of the outfall and the high recreational use of Kailua Bay.
Hawaii News Now asked why the notice took so long.
The city released a statement saying, “The City’s shoreline monitoring has not demonstrated elevated levels of enterococcus in the surrounding water related to the outfall discharge. Shoreline monitoring taken since Feb. 18 in the Kailua Bay area demonstrates that recreational water criteria is being met.”
However, environmental activist Carroll Cox said people should have been advised much sooner. He believes the bay should have been closed.
As of Saturday, dozens of people still visited Kailua Bay despite notices of high bacteria levels.
Ron Marcus, a beachgoer said, “I drove over here from the other side of the island because I figured it probably would be very quiet and I’d be able to find a parking space in the lot over here. But, I was surprised to see all these people here although there are a few in the water.”
Hawaii News Now reached out to the city and state for an update on bacteria levels in the water, but have not received a response.
The city said the exceedance of wastewater is due to operational issues at the treatment plant.
Warning signs will remain up until the department is confident that coastal waters have returned to normal and until the city returns to compliance with discharge limitations.
In addition to daily monitoring of the wastewater treatment plant effluent, the city will continue to conduct shoreline monitoring daily throughout the weekend to ensure that the Beach Action Value is not exceeded.
The public is advised to remain out of the affected waters until warning signs have been removed.
This story will be updated.