State officials to explain new monitoring program at Wednesday meeting in Lihue

LIHUE — A new Hawaii Beach Monitoring Program has been created by the state to meet federal Environmental Protection Agency demands.

And the public has a chance to hear about the new approach to recreational water quality in a meeting set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Kauai District Health Office Conference Room in Lihue.

Department of Health Clean Water Branch Chief Alec Wong and Gary Uenunten of the Kauai District Health Office will be at the meeting and there will be a question- and-answer session, according to Janice Okubo, DOH spokeswoman.

Posting signs when water is contaminated with bacteria, response to sewage spills, brown water advisories and water testing methods all be on the table for discussion.

It was a July 25 letter from EPA to DOH’s Clean Water Branch that triggered the Hawaii Beach Monitoring Program’s creation, along with a new wave of signage alerting the public of chronic pollution in places like Kauai’s Waiopili Stream.

EPA has authority to require a monitoring program because CWB receives money through the federal BEACH Act.

“In order to protect public health, Hawaii DOH must post a sign informing the public that the water flowing across the beach does not meet Hawaii’s recreational water quality standards,” the letter said. “In addition to posting signs, EPA strongly advises Hawaii DOH to immediately implement public health protection measures, such as limiting access and conducting information outreach to the general public.”

DOH posted warning signs of contamination at the Waiopili Stream mouth in August and the department has been working on the monitoring program for nearly the past year.

The goal of the program is to “reduce the risk of illness to users of Hawaii beaches,” according to a 28-page DOH document detailing the plan.

But water experts and activists on Kauai say the program barely covers the basics.

Testing the water

The Hawaii Beach Monitoring Program only applies to beaches and explicitly excludes testing inland waters upstream of river mouths.

And the program limits testing to specific beaches across the state, five of them on Kauai, because money and staff are tight for the CWB, according to the DOH.

“Funding from the EPA through the BEACH Grant is only sufficient to fund two positions and laboratory support for the entire state,” Okubo said. “Monitoring streams would mean reducing the number of beaches that are monitored, or reducing the monitoring frequency at each beach. These options are not available to the CWB under the federal grant obligations.”

Beaches have been broken down into three tiers, “based on their economic and social importance to the state,” according to the program outline.

Tier 1 beaches are considered core beaches, have the highest monitoring priority, and are heavily used and threatened by some type of pollution. The frequency of monitoring at Tier 2 and Tier 3 beaches decreases as the beaches become more remote.

On Kauai, DOH plans to monitor five beaches in the Tier 1 group once a week — at Hanalei Beach Park, Poipu Beach Park, Salt Pond Beach Park, Kalapaki Beach and Lydgate State Park.

Carl Berg, head of Surfrider Kauai’s Blue Water Task Force, says that’s not enough.

The Blue Water Task Force has been sampling water for enterococcus bacteria for the past decade and reporting the data to DOH.

“The proposed rule shamefully limits where the DOH samples to just a few beaches where extensive sampling by DOH for decades has sown pollution events occur less than one percent of the time,” Berg said.

The focus for testing locations isn’t right either, Berg said.

“Tier 1 beaches were ranked as suck because of their economic and social importance to the state, not because they are a public health risk,” he said.

In May, the Blue Water Task Force released their monthly sampling data from 28 locations on Kauai and 21 of those sites recorded a concentration of the bacteria enterococcus above the 130 parts per 100 ml single day standard.

Of the 28 sites, 18 of them recorded a geomean of the samples higher than the 35 parts per 100 ml single day standard.

Some of those places include Niumalu Beach Park at the boat ramp, the Waimea River mouth, Hanamaulu Stream and Wainiha Stream.

Risk communication

The CWB doesn’t close beaches, but the program outlines four ways for the entity to communicate the risk of contaminated water to the public: temporary water quality exceedance advisories, permanent water quality exceedence advisories, sewage spill warning advisories, and brown water advisories.

The program mandates temporary signs be posted when monitoring shows the water has surpassed safe levels and follow-up samples are required each work day subsequent to the initial posting.

If those safe levels of bacteria are surpassed more than 50 percent of the time, the program calls for a permanent sign and annual check-ups to the site.

Warning signs for sewage spills, which are already in use, would continue to be posted when those contamination events occur.

The program also outlines the use of brochures, email and social media to spread the word about contaminated water, as well as county lifeguards and members of the visitor industry.

DOH representatives said the plan is to use as many community partners as possible to help with the spread of information.

Berg said he thinks DOH should be using the community for gathering data as well.

“If DOH does further cutbacks in sampling, DOH needs community science more than ever to help identify polluted sources so that DOH can confirm, post, and clean up the waterways,” Berg said.

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