EXCLUSIVE: Environmentalists criticize city for not testing for sewage in Waikiki on day of spill

EXCLUSIVE: Environmentalist criticizes city for not test for sewage in Waikiki on day of spill
Published: Aug. 28, 2015 at 4:30 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 29, 2015 at 4:07 AM HST
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Marti Townsend
Marti Townsend

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When nearly half a million gallons of raw sewage poured into Ala Moana Beach Park on Monday, the city tested nearby areas for bacteria levels caused by the sewage spill. But it didn't test for sewage in Waikiki that day.

"I'm very concerned that there was no testing for sewage on Monday," said Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii. "Common sense dictates that we have more sampling than less."

The day that human waste gushed out of the sewer line beneath Atkinson Drive, the city and the state closed beaches between Kakaako and Kapahulu.

The city tested at 19 different locations that day. But it only conducted tests for sewage in Waikiki the next day after it was told to do so by the state Health Department.

Here's how the city explained its reasoning:  "There was additional testing that the Department of Health asked us to add on but my crews had already done the first day's sampling," Lori Kahikina, director of the city Department of Environmental Services, said during a news conference on Wednesday.
"The first day of sampling was not available. It's the second day that we have."

The Sierra Club's Townsend questioned the city's motives, saying she suspects the city didn't want possibly sewage-related bacteria counts in Waikiki making more national news.

"We know that the story is circulating around the globe and that our reputation is taking a serious hit because of the brown water alerts and the possible sewage spills," she said.

Townsend said that even when the city did conduct tests in Waikiki the next day, the bacterial levels "were off the charts."

Results provided by the state Health Department show high levels of the bacteria enterococcus near the Kapahulu Groin on Tuesday. Tests found 910 bacterial colonies per 100 milliliters of water, exceeding acceptable levels by more than seven times.

On Wednesday, the city reopened beaches after the state Health Department gave the all clear.

Deputy Health Director Keith Kawaoka said that while the waters off Waikiki contained elevated levels of the enterococcus bacteria on Tuesday, the test results for the bacteria clostridium, which is usually associated with human sewage, were within safe levels. The Health Department noted that the higher enterococcus readings were likely due to runoff from the heavy rains.

"The beaches from Kahanamoku Beach to Kapahulu Avenue as well as Ala Moana Beach ... were never impacted by the sewage," said Kawaoka.

But water quality expert Carl Berg of the Surfrider Foundation's Kauai chapter has his doubts.

He noted that test results on Monday at the Diamond Head side of the Ala Wai boat harbor near the Hilton Hawaiian Lagoon showed high levels of enterococcus and clostridium. It also has lower salinity readings, which would indicated higher fresh water levels. All three combined often indicate the presence of sewage, he said.

"The high values of both the clostridium and enterococcus and that salinity ... suggests that the sewage did in fact reach that spot," he said.

But Berg says he doesn't think the city had ulterior motives in not testing in Waikiki. He noted that the test results show that the city's inspectors simply stopped conducting tests around 4 p.m. on Monday, which is standard practices in the business. But given the magnitude of the spill, Berg said the city should have gone ahead with the testing that day.

"In light of the fact that this is a sewage spill, a major sewage spill, I just can't comprehend that they hadn't gone out and sampled," said Berg.

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