HANALEI — Some waterways on Kauai are chronically contaminated with the bacteria Enterococcus, according to findings released recently by Surfrider Kauai Chapter’s Blue Water Task Force.
The report highlights the 2015 findings from the organization’s monthly samplings of the island’s surf breaks, streams and canals. It also includes results from Hawaii’s Department of Health, which tests weekly for Enterococcus on various beaches. The bacteria is an indication of feces in the water and can cause urinary tract infections, sore throat and cold-like symptoms.
Carl Berg, chairman of Kauai’s chapter of Surfrider and the coordinator for the Blue Water Task Force, hypothesized that much of the contamination comes from the island’s open cesspools.
But he said determination for the cause of the bacterial pollution falls on the shoulders of the state DOH.
DOH officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Linette Machell, who winters every year on Kauai from her home on the Oregon Coast, was relieved to hear that Hanalei Bay isn’t on Surfrider’s list. But she said she is always mindful of the water quality before she takes her boogie board into the bay.
“I always look at the river when I cross over and see how muddy it is before I get in,” Machell said. “Especially here at the pier. If there’s any kind of scummy film on the area, I paddle out of there as fast as I can.”
Machell, who stays in Princeville when she’s on island, said Hanalei Bay looked “pretty clear” on Tuesday morning.
California visitor Justin Anderson, who was at the beach Tuesday for his annual surf in Hanalei Bay, said the water looked clean to him, too.
“I think it’s probably cleaner than where I go surfing in California,” Anderson said, as he took his board toward the water. “I’m not worried.”
While Hanalei Bay looks clear, according to reports from DOH, the Hanalei Bay Pavilion Beach was found to have a small amount of Enterococcus in the water around 5 percent of the time.
Hanalei Bay’s water is fairly clean, though, compared to some of the results from the Blue Water Task Force’s report.
The Waikomo Stream at Koloa Landing, the Hanamaulu Stream, the boat ramp at Niumalu Beach Park and the Waiopili Stream at Mahaulepu were reported in 2015 to be chronically contaminated.
“What that means is it’s polluted,” Berg said. “Your chances of going there (today) and it’s polluted are 100 percent.”
At all of those locations, the number of bacteria per 100 ml of water exceeded the state-mandated Statistical Threshold Value (STV) of 130 bacteria by hundreds. In the case of the Waiopili Stream, the number of bacteria per 100 ml was a little more than 10,000.
That’s not new news, either — the Blue Water Task Force has been reporting bacteria counts in the hundreds and thousands at all four of those locations since 2012.
According to the Blue Water Task Force’s report, Salt Pond’s surf break is polluted 11 percent of the time, Kalapaki Bay is polluted 18 percent of the time, and The Bowl in Hanalei is polluted 20 percent of the time. There’s a 75 percent chance that the mouth of the Waimea River is polluted at any given time as well.
“When you get these things that are 90 or 100 percent (of the time contaminated), they’re polluted so much of the time that they become a public health risk,” Berg said.
Of the 19 DOH samples in the report, only Waimea Bay Landing Beach presented a concern. It is polluted roughly 40 percent of the time, according to the research.
Berg said the Blue Water Task Force samples surf spots because that’s what the organization’s membership — mostly avid surfers — wants to know, but the task force also sample streams and river mouths because “that’s where the pollution is coming from.”
“Kids play in these streams and that’s where the pollution is coming from,” Berg said. “We throw up the red flag that these streams are really polluted.”
The task force also took samples from the canals on the Eastside, where Hawaiian monk seals feed and rest.
“We were concerned about the health of the monk seals and so I started sampling at NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) request,” Berg said. “Now they are physically getting the samples and giving them to me and I run the analysis.”
Kapaa’s Uhelekawawa Canal, the Waia’kea Canal and the Moikeha Canal were all reported to be contaminated about 90 percent of the time.
The surf spots at Waiohai, PK’s, Anahola, Moloaa, Rock Quarry, Pine Trees and Middles in Hanalei were all reported to be free from the bacteria contamination.
The Blue Water Task Force’s data from the past seven years of sampling is available online at www.kauai.surfrider.org, along with an interactive map of the sampling locations.
It’s best to carry extra clean water for rinsing off if you’ve been in water that’s polluted, Berg said.
“Rinse out your eyes, ears, mouth and nose and you’ll probably get rid of most of it,” he said. “Shower it off as soon as you get out of the water.”
He explained that most surfers and water-goers who don’t rinse the bacteria off well enough most commonly experience sore throats and ear aches.
“If you have an open wound, you could get a staph infection,” Berg said. “That’ll just kind of fester and turn purple.”