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Conflicting reports point to contamination

LIHUE — Animals — chickens, sheep, geese and feral pigs — on Grove Farm Company land are the likely source of pollution ending up in Waiopili Stream in Mahaulepu.

That’s according to Watson Okubo, monitoring and analysis section chief of DOH’s Clean Water Branch.

Recent conflicting test results, however, mean the department will return to the South Shore property next week for additional sampling.

“We have a problem,” Okubo said of the recent results.

Waiopili flows off Grove Farm land and enters the ocean near Makauwahi Cave Reserve and is downhill from Hawaii Dairy Farms’ proposed dairy site. Recent testing by the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter and DOH has shown it is currently Kauai’s most polluted stream — one of several that continuously fails to meet state water quality standards.

After receiving permission from the landowner last month, Okubo visited the property Nov. 5-6 and conducted split sampling along with HDF, the company awaiting permits for its proposed dairy on 582 acres of Grove Farm land. The two entities, DOH and HDF, each collected samples from the same water sources and tested them for fecal indicating bacteria, according to Okubo. DOH sent its samples to its Kauai lab. HDF sent theirs to a private lab in Honolulu.

“That private lab’s data and our DOH lab data do not come close,” Okubo said.

DOH found bacteria counts that were “similar but not as high” as levels it found in July, while HDF’s results were “alarmingly lower,” Okubo said.

“We don’t want to bash the private lab but we know there is a problem,” he said.

As a result of the discrepancy, DOH, Grove Farm and HDF agreed to another round of sampling on Monday. This time, DOH will split its samples with the City and County of Honolulu Laboratory at Sand Island, which Okubo said does bacteria analysis on a regular basis.

Okubo declined to provide the recent bacteria data until the second round of sampling is complete. DOH plans to issue a final report on its findings.

HDF spokeswoman Amy Hennessey said the dairy is committed to ensuring environmental protection of the area. As part of its work to develop the farm’s water quality monitoring process, she said, HDF has been conducting testing over the past month to gather baseline data. The company invited DOH to sample the same areas it’s been testing to ensure both are finding similar results.

“Because each lab has different protocols, we’re doing another sample test next week with two additional labs to further calibrate since our independent lab’s results were different from the Department of Health’s readings,” Hennessey wrote in an email. “If we find that the lab we’re using is not correct, we will be adjusting to ensure consistent, accurate readings.”

Finding the source

In a single 100 ml sample, there should be less than 104 counted enterococcus — bacteria which indicates contamination from feces of warm-blooded animals, including humans. If the count exceeds 104, the water is considered polluted. The geometric average, or geomean, of five collected samples should not exceed more than 35 bacteria per 100 ml.

Waiopili’s geomean of 14 samples taken beginning in April was 8,806 bacteria — 250 times the state standard — according to results provided by Carl Berg of Surfrider. One sample, taken July 20, tallied more than 24,196 bacteria, the highest reading possible with the technology Berg uses.

In response to the high counts, DOH collected its own sample at Gillan’s Beach on July 23. It registered greater than 2,005 enterococcus and greater than 50 chlostridium, a second indicator of fecal contamination, according to data on the department’s website.

In an effort to pinpoint the source, DOH requested access to the property to conduct a sanitary survey. Okubo said that during his visit he saw large populations of chickens, sheep, geese and ducks around the Haraguchi Taro Farm, located inside the proposed dairy site. Additionally, the area reportedly has a large population of feral pigs, which Grove Farm is working to eradicate. 

Okubo said that while he believes the animal populations are causing the high counts, additional sampling is needed. As for the presence of human waste that has shown up in recent tests, he said it could be the result of people defecating near the stream. 

“That’s a possibility,” he said. “There is no sewer lines or cesspools up there or anything like that.”

Hennessey said HDF shares the community’s concerns over the recent bacteria counts.

“We know there are several existing animal operations in the area that could be factors, as well as feral pigs and other wildlife, but the larger question we find interesting is the presence of human waste in the samples,” she wrote. “We look forward to the Department of Health’s report with its findings.”

Looking forward

Berg, who has voiced concerns about potential impacts of the dairy on water quality, said that if the chickens and sheep present today are in fact causing the pollution in Waiopili, it is only logical that the proposed number of cows would make matters worse.

When asked if the proposed number of cows was a concern, Okubo said HDF’s initial phase of 669 cows will be fenced and under a management plan where fecal matter is addressed and not discharged into the streams and ditches. 

Okubo said, however, posting signage in response to animal contamination would “open up a whole can of worms,” forcing the department to have to post signs along streams all over the state. 

Since HDF is not yet operating at the site, Hennessey said the upcoming DOH report — which could be available as early as next week — will help the dairy to further strengthen its best management practices for when it does have cows on the farm.

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