LIHUE — A lack of resources and a change in monitoring criteria caused the Environmental Protection Agency to mandate the state Department of Health’s Hawaii Beach Monitoring Program.
The newly formed Beach Monitoring Program was aired out Wednesday at a meeting on Kauai. DOH’s Clean Water Branch staff said they received valuable feedback from the 20 people in attendance. The purpose is to outline how CWB will comply with the rules of the federal BEACH (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health) Act.
“Some of those in attendance appreciated the work DOH conducts with our limited resources, but others thought the department wasn’t doing enough and expressed the need to sample more beaches and expand water quality sampling to the streams,” said Gary Ueunten, environmental health specialist with DOH.
Ueunten is one of four who carry out water quality monitoring activities throughout the state, on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Hawaii and Kauai.
Concerns over sources of pollution, specifically cesspools that are over capacity near streams like Moloaa, also arose. Attendees said a better form of notification was needed for high bacteria counts.
“The audience was very different than most,” said Eileen Kechloian, with Friends of Mahaulepu. “They were involved. They asked a lot of questions, and I think, were surprised or shocked by the answers.”
Kauai’s DOH District Health Officer Janet Berreman attended to listen and learn.
“I wasn’t able to stay for the entire discussion, but I was impressed that there was a good exchange of information, ideas and concerns,” she said. “I value opportunities for direct communication between DOH and community members.”
Weekly testing at 5 beaches
The new plan separates state beaches into three tiers based on three criteria: economic and social relevance, usage and the threat of pollution. Tier 1 beaches are monitored once a week, Tier 2 beaches will be monitored as resources permit, and Tier 3 beaches aren’t monitored.
“It should be noted that frequency of use and the threat of pollution, or potential pollution sources, are given a higher priority than economic importance,” Ueunten said.
On Kauai, DOH plans to monitor five beaches in the Tier 1 group — Hanalei Beach Park, Poipu Beach Park, Salt Pond Beach Park, Kalapaki Beach and Lydgate Beach Park — and 21 beaches in the Tier 2 group.
How those beaches are organized is a concern for Carl Berg, head of the Surfrider Kauai Blue Water Task Force.
“Why not (sample) all the places the Hawaiian community uses every single day, why just the tourist beaches?” Berg said. “The Wailua River, with all those canoes — why is that not Tier 1?”
CWB simply doesn’t have enough money or people to sample at every body of water, according to Ueunten.
In addition, the BEACH Act, which is the framework for the EPA’s mandate, doesn’t include rivers, streams or river mouths.
Not enough money
Lack of resources was part of the reason CWB fell out of compliance with the BEACH Act.
Scant staffing was especially apparent over the years when CWB staff members have participated in the EPA’s National Assessments. These surveys happen intermittently and focus on testing coastal areas, streams and rivers.
“When these occurred, the CWB could not meet its BEACH Act workplan commitments,” Ueunten said.
The CWB will not be participating in National Assessments in the near future in order to focus on meeting the BEACH Act requirements.
The trigger for the EPA mandate was complaints about a lag in sign posting and water quality testing from environmental activists and scientists, and CWB attributes that to a change in monitoring protocol.
For many years, Hawaii has based water quality testing on two different bacterial organisms — enterococci and Clostridium perfringens. EPA notified CWB that the use of C. perfringens requires an additional mulit-million dollar study, which the CWB couldn’t afford.
That meant the number of advisories “decreased drastically,” Ueunten said, which drew complaints from Kauai environmental activists and eventually led to the plan’s creation.
Though Kauai’s rivers and streams are excluded from the DOH monitoring, Kechloian said she was encouraged to hear DOH might use volunteer community members to help collect data.
DOH staff confirmed the plan isn’t set in stone, but a volunteer monitoring program is being discussed.
“I believe they should be working a little closer with Surfrider and the Blue Water Task Force. I asked them about USGS because they test, and a lot of businesses that own the property have tested,” she said.
Simply testing isn’t enough, though, said Katherine Muzik of Kapaa — the current pollution in Kauai’s waters still needs to be clean up, starting with cesspools.
“DOH was just presenting what they do, they didn’t really come up with solutions,” she said. “The solution has got to come from the community. We have to cooperate.”
Gordon LaBedz, vice chair of Kauai’s chapter of Surfrider Foundation, said DOH can test all it wants, but that won’t change the fact the island is primarily hooked up to cesspools.
“As long as the state of Hawaii doesn’t join the rest of the Western world in treating our sewage, we will always have polluted streams and beaches, especially after a rain,” LaBedz said.
The next step, according to Berreman and Berg, is for the community to weigh in with DOH.
“It is very important that concerned community members take advantage of the opportunity to provide written feedback,” Berreman said.
For information about the program and how to submit comments, go to health.hawaii.gov/cwb/site-map/clean-water-branch-home-page/public-notices-and-updates.
Public comments are due Sept. 1.