When bacteria levels at the beach get too high, signs are posted— but is that enough?

Updated: Jun. 20, 2017 at 10:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When enterococci bacteria levels go beyond a safe limit, the State Department of Health puts up signs warning beachgoers of the contamination. But, some environmentalists want an improvement in the warning system.

The new signs required by the Environmental Protection Agency alert Hawaii beachgoers of potentially dangerous bacteria levels in the ocean.

Since the state began using the temporary caution signs six months ago, they've been posted 20 times at beaches on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island.

The state Department of Health regularly tests water samples from 49 beaches based on their economic and social importance.

"They're testing a lot of beaches that we know are fairly clean and they're not testing the beaches that may be a little more remote not as populated, but have much worse water quality," said Stuart Coleman, Hawaiian Islands Manager for Surfrider Foundation.

The Hawaii Department of Health will be gathering feedback during informational meetings about the signs. The next one is scheduled for June 21 at 6 p.m. at the Kauai District Health Office in Lihue.

"If we have funding, all the resources, definitely we want to do more, but right now I don't think we have enough funding and resources to do everywhere in the state, including the streams," explained Alec Wong, chief of the DOH's Clean Water Branch.

Wong said the DOH receives roughly $300,000 a year in federal grant money through the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act which requires states to monitor coastal recreational waters. The funding pays for two positions and statewide lab support, according to Wong.

"The goal of the beach monitoring program is to make sure the public has been notified, and also let the public make their own decisions whether they want to go in the water or not," said Wong.

The state plans to eventually put permanent signs at beaches that are often contaminated by streams and storm water runoff.

"It's an improvement, but it just needs to go further," said Coleman. "We want them to include citizen science groups which are popping up all over the place, like Surfrider, to include our testing results because if they're short-staffed, we can fill in some of the gaps."

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