High bacteria counts in Waiopili Stream raise questions about dairy

MAHAULEPU — New water quality data from Waiopili Stream combined with a brown plume of runoff from recent rains is raising more questions about plans for a dairy in the Mahaulepu Valley.

Thunderstorms dropped about four inches of water in 24 hours onto the valley at the beginning of March, sending a mud plume of runoff into the ocean near Gillin’s Beach.

On March 2, just after the rain event triggered the Department of Health Clean Water Branch’s brown water advisory, the department tested 12 sites in the Waiopili Stream, the waters of which come from a ditch system throughout the valley.

Testing started up in the mountains and continued down to the mouth of the stream and the tests revealed enterococci numbers in the hundreds, far above the federal standard for water safety.

“This was not a very large rainfall event,” said Carl Berg, research scientist and head of the Surfrider Kauai Blue Water Task Force. “It’s absolutely frightening to think of the results of the combination of 2,000 cows’ manure and extremely heavy rainfall.”

Hawaii Dairy Farms plans to build a minimum 699-cow, maximum 2,000-cow dairy on 557 acres in the Mahaulepu Valley. According to the HDF final environmental impact statement, which was withdrawn from state consideration in February.

The goal is to establish a sustainable, pastoral, rotational-grazing dairy farm.

HDF maintains the company has proven in its environmental impact statement that it will actually help clean up the current bacterial pollution problem, said Amy Hennessey, spokeswoman for HDF.

“Credible studies from our EIS work have shown that our dairy design, using vegetation buffers, fencing and large setbacks, along with active management of the site, will help improve water quality,” she said.

Berg, as head of the Surfrider Kauai Blue Water Task Force, has been testing the waters in the Waiopili Stream for three years. He said his results have been yielding numbers in the thousands, much higher than the recent numbers in the DOH data.

Those numbers are only a tenth of the average values that he obtains from his regular testing of the site, he said.

“The values for Waiopili Stream, especially where the ocean meets the stream, near the bridge at the cave site, are way above state standards for both indicators of fecal contamination,” Berg said.

He continued: “If the bacteria levels are way high now, then the load with 2,000 cows will be astronomical. The concentration of bacteria will not be diluted enough by ocean water to be safe at Shipwrecks or Poipu Beach, or along that coast to Lawai Beach.”

Bridget Hammerquist, president of the group Friends of Mahaulepu, shares the opinion. The group opposes the installation of an industrial dairy in the Mahaulepu Valley and water testing is part of that effort.

“Something in Mahaulepu is already causing the stream at Mahaulepu to be one of the most polluted on the island and not a suitable site to add a herd of cows,” Hammerquist said.

Discovering the source of that bacterial pollution should be the focus of all financial and collaborative efforts, Hennessey said. That is something that’s inside DOH purview.

The community could support the state’s efforts, she said, instead of “time and money being spent fighting something good for the community.”

“Rather than speculate about what could happen in the future, it would be really great to see the community’s energy directed toward finding out where the existing contamination is coming from and how it can be fixed,” Hennessey said.

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