HANAMAULU — A manhole along Kuhio Highway in Kapaia overflowed Tuesday morning, sending upwards of 18,000 gallons of raw sewage into Hanamaulu Stream and forcing state health officials to issue an advisory urging people to stay out of the water.
The spill was reported around 8 a.m. and resulted from an obstruction in the sewer main caused by an accumulation of grease and other debris, according to Kauai County officials.
“Keep Out —Contaminated Water” signs have been posted at Hanamaulu Beach and other affected areas to warn the public, and it could be days before the state Department of Health advisory is lifted.
“Probably through Friday at least,” said Watson Okubo of DOH’s Clean Water Branch on the advisory’s duration.
County officials estimated that when they arrived, about 100 gallons per minute were spilling into the drainage swale on the mauka side of the highway, flowing down the hillside near Hanamaulu River Bridge and into the stream. Once the obstruction was cleared, the sewer maintenance crew cleaned the line until the flow returned to normal. The area around the manhole was disinfected with bleach and crews left the scene about 11 a.m.
The Clean Water Branch posted an advisory on its website by 2 p.m.
Okubo said it is usually the responsibility of the discharger to collect water samples. In this case, however, he said he believes the DOH lab is better equipped to do the required analysis. Hanamaulu Stream is known for high bacteria counts, which is why DOH says it will collect samples at one of its regular sites to compare spill data to historical data.
“We need to see that bacteria levels are below background levels (historical data) before the spill,” he said.
When asked if Monday’s heavy rains contributed to the overflow, Ed Tschupp, head of the county’s Wastewater Division, said it was hard to say.
“It is possible, but the timing may be coincidental,” he said.
Carl Berg, vice president of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter, said Hanamaulu Stream is normally polluted anyway.
Last month, for example, a sample collected from the stream by Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force showed counts of Enterococcus — an indicator of fecal contamination — six times higher that state water quality standards, he said.
And Berg did not downplay the seriousness of Tuesday’s incident, saying that “18,000 gallons of raw sewage going into that little Kapaia stream is a significant environmental disaster, and it has serious implications for public health risk.”
“People should stay out of the river and bay until such time that they meet the state water quality standards — which they won’t,” he said.
Berg said his solution would be to post permanent signage in the area as a warning to the public.
Lilly Ki-Ilau and her son, Joe, stopped at Hanamaulu Beach Park for a late lunch Tuesday. While they were unaware of the sewage spill, they had plenty to say about the condition of the stream and bay.
“The river has been polluted for many years,” said Joe, adding that he wouldn’t be walking past the posted signs to take a swim that day.
“This used to be a beautiful beach,” Lilly added.