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Signs of trouble

MAHAULEPU — The signs posted Tuesday by Friends of Mahaulepu warning the public of water contamination in the Waiopili Stream were yanked out of their cement before it could fully dry, but Bridgette Hammerquist, president of the organization, said that won’t slow their roll.

Friends of Mahaulepu installed warning signs on state land Tuesday morning at the Waiopili Stream because “something needed to be done.”

Less than five hours later, the signs were gone.

“Someone working on the cave restoration site (near the stream) saw us putting them up. They picked up their phone, and lo and behold, they’re gone,” Hammerquist said. “But we’ve already started making new ones and this isn’t going to stop us.”

The signs caution beachgoers to “keep out of water: wastewater bacteria may be in river and may cause illness.”

“We’ve asked the Hawaii Department of Health to post warning signs and they won’t do it,” Hammerquist said. “So we’re posting signs. The public has a right to know the water is contaminated.”

Tuesday’s sign posting comes after years of monthly samplings, conducted by citizen scientists from Surfrider Kauai Chapter’s Blue Water Task Force. Those samplings have indicated chronically high levels of pollution in the stream, exceeding the state-mandated limit of 30-bacteria/100 ml of water by the thousands.

The latest report from Surfrider, conducted May 7, lists the Waiopili Stream’s concentration of enterococcus contamination at 6,800-bacteria/100 ml of water.

“We want this posted, so that people no longer get staph (infections) and ear infections,” said Jay Kechloian, one of the founding members of Friends of Mahaulepu. “So our focus right now is to get the Waiopili cleaned up and for DOH to find the source of the contaminants.”

Robert Zelkovsky, membership coordinator for Surfrider Kauai, said he’s glad a private group like Friends of Mahaulepu took charge and put the signs up themselves.

“It’s critical that the public know what they’re swimming in, and it’s critical that the public know of the potential health hazard,” Zelkovsky said.

Keith Kawaoka, DOH deputy director for environmental health, said water contamination and signage posting isn’t quite that simple, but that DOH is taking steps to study the stream.

“Actually, our clean water staff just met with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to develop a plan to further determine what potential contribution those levels (in the Surfrider water quality reports) indicate,” Kawaoka said.

He explained DOH only posts warning signs in areas where enterococcus contamination originates from a human source and the index number from Surfrider Kauai’s data doesn’t break down the sources of the bacteria.

“We’re always concerned about the human sources, that’s been our policy, and we don’t post unless we feel there’s a human contribution,” Kawaoka said. “It’s not practical to post signage at every stream and on every trail, but with urging from the EPA we’re looking into Mahaulepu.”

Kawaoka explained DOH and EPA are developing a plan to do further stream sampling in that area, and expect to start the project this summer. Testing is expected to last about four months.

Mahaulepu Beach itself is on state land, but the Waiopili Stream is on land owned by Grove Farm, and Kawaoka said DOH is planning to ask Grove Farm to shut down access to the beach during the summer study.

“We’re proposing to isolate the human factor so we get accurate tests,” Kawaoka said. “Then we’ll try and determine, given those high levels of contamination, if the source is predominantly from plants and animals, not human.”

Kawaka said the DOH didn’t know Friends of Mahaulepu posted warning signs on Tuesday, but he said if the warning signs are posted on state land without their permission, DOH will remove them. Grove Farm didn’t immediately return calls for comment on Tuesday.

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