Partnering to protect

LIHUE — Hawaii chapters of the Surfrider Foundation are teaming up with the Department of Health as the state changes its approach to public education on water quality.

The plan is to expand the DOH policy from its current stance, which is to post signage only at areas contaminated with human sewage, said Stuart Yamada, director of the DOH Clean Water Branch.

“We shouldn’t just be looking at sewage spills and overflows. Some of these (high bacteria counts in the water) happen and they’re not necessarily related to sewage,” Yamada said. “High bacteria levels could be indicative of something else that may be of concern.”

The goal is to inform the public when bacteria counts reach levels that surpass federal guidelines. The point is not to close beaches.

“We all have to work together, and ultimately we have to get EPA approval on how we’re making a mid-course correction here,” Yamada said. “We shouldn’t operate in a vacuum.”

The decision to work together was made at a recent meeting on Kauai between the heads of both organizations.

“The Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaii chapters are working with Hawaii Department of Health on posting more warning signs in areas with contaminated water,” said Stuart Coleman, manager of Surfrider’s Hawaii chapters. “We are also working with them to help improve public notification when water quality is compromised.”

Details are being ironed out.

Promoting public awareness and education will be the primary role of Surfrider in the new partnership, Yamada said, and both entities will maintain the same water sampling practices.

Yamada said it’s important for DOH to continue its responsibility of testing the water.

“It is helpful no matter what, because of the far reach of Surfrider,” Yamada said. “Each Surfrider chapter is empowered to do that kind of stuff, and we might even see greater collaboration in that area, but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”

On Kauai, Surfrider doesn’t plan on stopping any of its water testing. And Carl Berg, head of the chapter’s Blue Water Task Force, said other chapters statewide are either gearing up or fine-tuning their programs.

While he’s excited about the collaboration between Surfrider and Hawaii’s Department of Health, Berg said the source of the contamination in the waters should still be discovered and curbed.

“Our goal is to have the government end pollution in these areas so we can all play in good, clean streams and ocean waters,” Berg said.

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