Hanalei Watershed Hui hosts EPA officials

HANALEI — Regional administrators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency visited Kauai Thursday to tour taro loi, the Hanalei River and Hanalei Bay, and to see what projects the Hanalei Watershed Hui is working on with the $700,000 Watershed Initiatives grant they were awarded in May.

There are plans in Hanalei town to replace cesspools that are contaminating the river and groundwater, and implement agricultural practices to reduce sediments flowing into the river; and will continue monitoring and documenting the effect of these activities on the coral reefs and oopu populations, according to the plan drawn up by the Hui.

Hanalei was the only watershed selected from California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and tribal lands that make up the EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). The EPA received 176 nominations and a total of 20 grants were awarded nationwide. A total of $15 million was awarded under the Watershed Initiative program.

Wayne Nastri, Pacific Region administrator, made his first trip to Kauai. He said Hanalei was chosen based on its current practices of testing, monitoring and educating the community. Plans to replace cesspools with septic systems will bring immediate results, he said. “Everything has to go through the community,” Nastri said. EPA Pacific Island Region representative Wendy Wiltse said Hanalei has proven its depth of community involvement, and a track record of success, since being named an American Heritage River in 1998.

Each state’s governor could nominate up to two watershed proposals, and from there the regional nominees were forwarded to the national EPA office.

“The community asked: Is the water fishable and swimmable?” Hui executive director Makaala Kaaumoana told the group. The Hanalei River was designated an American Heritage River in 1999 and the community identified water quality as a concern of highest priority.

After four years of testing, monitoring and coming up with data regarding the water in the bay and river, the Hui developed a Watershed action plan, to include monitoring and restoring the oopu populations in the river; and testing bacteria levels to see what factors and what areas need work.

On May 5 the EPA announced it awarded the grant to Hanalei. The Hanalei River was designated an American Heritage River in July 1998. The Hanalei Heritage River Program will use the grant to support ecological restoration, community development and historic and cultural preservation, Kaaumoana said. Under direction of hydrologist Jan Surface and chief scientist Dr. Carl Berg, Jr., the Hanalei Hui has sampled the waters in the river and bay for about three years and has developed data suggesting possible sources of pollution.

Restoring and monitoring oopu populations is another project. The oopu, a native fish, spends its life in and out of the river and ocean but numbers are dwindling, possibly due to predators, climate and weather.

Berg said that through quarterly testing of water at the river mouth, Waioli beach, ditches, canals, near the Hanalei Pier and Hanalei Pavilion, they found high levels of bacteria that coincided with low tides, locations of cesspools, and other factors. Also, heavy rains do wash more bacteria into the bay, Berg said.

Also visiting was EPA San Francisco John Kemmerer, Hawaii Department of Health Deputy Director Larry Lau; Region 10 administrator John Yani and other regional reps who are interested in replacing cesspools with septic systems. Some of the EPA workers from the Pacific Region also attended the Pacific Islands Conference in Honolulu on environmental sustainability for islands. Also this week was an EPA workshop focusing on threats on coral reefs from land-based pollution.

The group went on a walking tour of taro loi, kayaked down the river and walked along Hanalei Pier. While at Black Pot Beach, some concerned residents told them about an area on the beach that looks like effluent leaching out from a cesspool in a line leading to an old home near the shoreline.

“We can look into that,” Lau said while writing down the telephone number of one of the women, who said she had been swimming in Hanalei Bay for about 20 years and has seen the brown water for that long.

“Get someone who can swim, so they can really see it,” she pleaded. “That might be hard, but we can look into it,” Lau said. The other woman said she and her husband were required to install a self-contained septic unit that costs twice as much as a regular septic because their home is located next to a water source.

One in the group did mention earlier in the day that some people who have cesspools should never have received permits to construct them, and hopefully they can be replaced.

While kayaking down the river, the group also checked out a “404 violation,” or an active investigation into the illegal construction of a boat ramp/marina. The investigation is looking at illegal grubbing and grading, sediment pollution into the river and development despite not having permits.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at mailto:kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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