Residents alarmed over Kailua Bay’s ‘stench,’ high bacteria levels linked to sewage plant

The high bacteria levels were fully or partially linked to outfall from a beleaguered wastewater treatment plant.
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 1:56 PM HST|Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 11:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In an unusual news conference Thursday, the state Health director walked back his agency’s critique of how the city communicated the risk of high bacteria levels off Kailua.

The high bacteria levels were fully or partially linked to outfall from a beleaguered wastewater treatment plant.

The news conference was held at city hall, where Mayor Rick Blangiardi bristled at the Health Department’s conclusion that the city had “downplayed” the risks.

“The word downplay to me implies really concerted action to mislead the public,” he told reporters. “We did everything we were supposed to do. We never downplayed anything to mislead the public.”

State Health Director Kenneth Fink also took the podium at the news conference, saying that the city did indeed meet its obligations for alerting the public to the risks of high bacteria levels in the water.

He also added: “The exceedances are problematic.”

Earlier this month, the state urged residents to avoid waters near the Kailua Wastewater Treatment Plant’s ocean outfall because of the high bacteria levels.

The state said bacteria levels were more than six times the allowable limit in some cases.

Some longtime Kailua residents said they’ve noticed smells from the water for a long time.

“You can smell the stench. They cannot process the waste. So where do they let it? They let it in the ocean,” said Charles Kalama.

Longtime environmental watchdog Carroll Cox also said the bacterial level exceedances are a problem.

“So this is a repeated offense, exceeding the limits. So at some point someone needs to be issued a citation rather than an apologetic statement,” he said.

DOH says the city is authorized to discharge 15.25 million gallons of wastewater per day from the plant into Kailua Bay. However, there are strict discharge limitations meant to protect the public.

In the wake of the incident, the mayor acknowledged the city would be looking at ways to improve communication about bacteria risks to the public. “We’re probably going to adjust our protocols,” he said.

Kalama said the problems at the treatment plant have gone on too long.

“We just tired of this already,” he said.