LIHUE — The state Department of Health is requesting access to Grove Farm Company property in Mahaulepu in an effort to pinpoint how large amounts of bacteria are ending up Waiopili Stream.
“We know it’s high,” Watson Okubo, monitoring and analysis section chief of DOH’s Clean Water Branch, said of the concentrations. “We’re trying to determine what’s the problem.”
Waiopili flows off Grove Farm land and enters the ocean near Makauwahi Cave Reserve and downhill from Hawaii Dairy Farms’ proposed dairy site. It is one of several streams on Kauai that continuously fails to meet state water quality standards.
Carl Berg of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter began collecting samples from the area in April in order to establish a water quality baseline prior to HDF bringing dairy cows onto the land. He described what he found then, and still today, as shocking — far from the pristine environment Mahaulepu is known as.
“This thing is eight times more polluted than the worst ones (on the island),” he said of Waiopili. “This is just outrageous.”
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 of five collected samples should not exceed more than 35 bacteria per 100 ml.
Waiopili’s geomean of 14 samples taken since April is 8,806 bacteria — 250 times the state standard — according to Berg. One sample, taken July 20, tallied 24,000 bacteria, the highest reading possible with the technology used, he said.
In comparison, Hanamaulu and Nawiliwili streams, two other chronically polluted bodies of water, have geomeans of 683.2 and 366.6 bacteria, respectively.
During its own sampling efforts, DOH found similar concentrations of enterococcus at Waiopili, as well as high levels of clostridium, according to Okubo. He has requested, through Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s office, that Grove Farm grant him access so that it can conduct point source surveys.
In an emailed statement Monday, Vice President Marissa Sandblom said health concerns are important to Grove Farm but that her company never received any type of data or official report regarding the test results.
“… However, when the Department of Health contacted us about conducting a site visit and field tests, we participated in a site visit,” she wrote. “The Department of Health has not yet provided us with the official results of their visit conducted last week; however, if they determine that they may want to follow up with additional tests within the coming weeks we will continue to work with them.”
Sandblom did not respond to The Garden Island’s question about whether Grove Farm was aware of any potential sources of the pollution.
Okubo said that while the high counts could potentially be a violation of the Clean Water Act, they are not necessarily of human origin and may be indigenous to the area.
“The presence of cattle and human markers only indicates to us that there was cattle and human influence in the past,” he said. “When is the question.”
Okubo said there are no cesspools along the stream path, that a sludge application to grow cattle grass on the property is not an issue, that there are no cattle on the proposed dairy property thus far and no known homeless people camping on Grove Farm land.
“I have walked the lower portion of the area and from what I have seen from my visit, on Google and other means, I cannot see what the source/sources are,” Okubo wrote. “I need to get onto Grove Farm mauka land and make the survey.”
Berg maintains someone, either DOH or Grove Farm, has an ethical responsibility to post signs warning people to stay out of the water. If they don’t, he says Surfrider will attempt to do it.
“I’ve had it,” he said, adding it’s both a health and liability issue. “I want to put signs up, just like the ones on the Hanalei River.”
Okubo said high bacteria counts are not unique to Kauai, and that during rain events the majority of Hawaii streams do not meet water quality standards. While it may seem prudent and easy to post warnings and walk away, doing so doesn’t answer the question of where the bacteria is coming from. And in this particular case, he said posting signs could make it seem like DOH has sided with Kawailoa Development LPP, the owner of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa and the Poipu Bay Golf Course, which is suing HDF over the proposed dairy.
Berg questioned why DOH needs permission from the landowner when the situation is a public health risk.
“I know it’s really polluted because I got infected,” he said, referring to a staff infection he says he contracted in his leg while sampling in the stream.
County spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said Carvalho is aware of the situation and “very interested in getting more solid data on what is causing the bacteria count.”
“We’re encouraging DOH and (Grove Farm) to work together to get more answers ASAP,” she wrote in an email. “Grove Farm said they were in discussions with DOH and would do their best to assist. It’s really up to the two of them at this point.”