Study clears water for swimmers

MAHA‘ULEPU — Results from a new kind of water quality testing show no imminent health threat for swimmers near the Waiopili Stream in Maha‘ulepu, and are casting questions on water testing methods that are being used in Hawaii.

It’s all contained in a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Health detailing a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study of Kauai water samples using PhyloChip Source Tracking, which is a microbial source tracking tool.

PhyloChip is a DNA microarray that identifies more than 59,000 different types of bacteria in one sample, according to the study, and then provides a genetic fingerprint of the microbial community.

Scientists compare those genetic fingerprints with samples from places like injection wells, the mud in the streambeds, and animals in the surrounding areas to determine the source of the microbes.

Samples were taken throughout the Maha‘ulepu and Waikomo watersheds. In total, 13 locations were sampled in the Maha‘ulepu Valley, from the head of the valley through Warner Dam, and to the bridge to Makauwahi Cave.

Five locations were sampled along Waikomo Stream.

“While researchers were unable to pinpoint the exact sources of the bacteria, they conclusively determined human waste is not the cause of bacterial contamination in the water,” DOH said in a Wednesday release. “High bacteria counts historically observed in the Maha‘ulepu and Waikomo watersheds on Kauai are not associated with human waste.”

PhyloChip testing did, however, show that the water near Poipu Kapili Resort contained human feces in April and October 2018 testing.

Further research matched the microbes in the water with Poipu injection wells, however, DOH says it’s not enough of an indication to present a risk to swimmers in the area.

“(That location) was sampled at extremely low tide and took some time to collect due to a low volume of water at the site,” said DOH spokeswoman Anna Koethe.

Naturally-occurring enterococci

For years there have been concerns about the high counts of enterococci bacteria in the Waiopili Stream and surrounding areas, a bacteria that indicates the presence of feces and pathogens in the water.

The PhyloChip study shows that bacteria aren’t coming from human waste. In scattered instances, the fecal indicator bacteria counts have come from cows and feral pigs, but the majority of the bacteria matched that in soil samples.

That indicates the high level of enterococci are naturally occurring in the environment and aren’t associated with pathogens that would be present if the enterococcus were coming from human or animal feces.

“Ninety percent of water samples exceeded the U.S. EPA recommended threshold for enterococci, yet only 25 percent had any fecal signal,” the report states.

David Burney, paleoecologist and independent scientist who has been working for years at Makauwahi Cave, said that’s because the soil in the tropics contains plethora bacteria that resemble fecal-indicating bacteria – cousins of the enterococci.

“What we’ve been picking up isn’t fecal bacteria. What we’re picking up are things that are giving a false positive from soils in tropical environments,” Burney said. “It’s a correlation, not the smoking pistol. It’s not the stuff that makes you sick.”

Unreliable testing, late report

The reason water testing on Kauai has been picking up those false positives, according to Burney and the DOH report, is that the Fecal Indicating Bacteria (FIB) tests being used were designed in temperate zones, not the tropics, where bacteria composition in the soil is different.

And it’s not only giving false positives, but also false negatives.

“It looks like results reported around Kauai may very well not only give a false impression of what places are dangerously polluted, but it looks like from this (Berkeley study) show the test can also fail to detect dangerous levels of fecal DNA,” Burney said.

Carl Berg, former head of Blue Water Task Force and current science adviser for the Kauai Surfrider Chapter, confirmed the traditional FIB testing isn’t always reliable.

“It does give false positives,” Berg said Wednesday. “(But), it’s the best thing we’ve got. EPA has been, for 10 years or more, trying to find another one that’s quick and correlated to human pathogens.”

He pointed out that, “when you get counts of 10,000 (enterococci) in Waipoli Stream, there’s a high probability that there are pathogens.”

DOH’s PhyloChip testing didn’t include pathogens, just testing for traditional fecal0-indicator bacteria like enterococci and Clostridium perfingens. Berg says they should have included pathogens in those tests to truly prove whether the water is safe for swimming.

“With the PhyloChip study, the question is whether or not it addressed if there were any pathogenic bacteria or viruses in the stream,” Berg said.

Meanwhile, some are concerned about the timing of the report’s release and question why it was released weeks after researchers were finished writing.

“How many versions of the report have they had?” asked Bridget Hammerquist, who has been working with Friends of Maha‘’ulepu to protect drinking water and the environment in the area. “We’re not sure what the department has done with the PhyloChip study initially released by Berkeley Labs, but we are concerned that there was a report which DOH asked the lab to change.”

DOH maintains the report wasn’t “in any way rewritten,” but that DOH did request clarifications and grammatical edits.

“After all comments and issues were addressed, the Berkeley Lab scientists produced the final report and provided the document to DOH as the final deliverable under the contract,” Koethe said.

Landowners and leaseholders in Maha‘ulepu are encouraged to hear that the testing showed the bacteria wasn’t from human waste.

“We want to thank the state for their time, energy and cost to complete the sanitary survey,” said Arryl Kaneshiro, general manager for landowner Grove Farm and chair of the County Council. “There were a lot of concerns about the quality of water in and around the Maha‘ulepu area. We hope this survey and the upcoming PhyloChip report will help quell any further misinformation about the area.”

•••

Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

6 Comments
  1. Rev Dr. Malama June 6, 2019 11:06 am Reply

    Really Arryl?
    Put your pictures of you and the baby swimming in the stream to prove it safe!
    Mahalo


  2. JKS June 6, 2019 1:58 pm Reply

    So now that the diary is gone, Surfrider’s bacteria counts are revealed as false. Who could possibly be surprised by this?


    1. DrSTD June 10, 2019 5:03 pm Reply

      Nice try.


  3. Lucky we live Kaua’i June 6, 2019 9:25 pm Reply

    This article leaves a lot of behind the scene information out. This could prove to be deadly to a young child or a kapuna. The Department of Health presenting this report to the public after revising it and softening the words of the authors of the report is criminal and at the very least deceptive. Before you let your babies play in these streams read the duplicity recorded in these emails.

    On 3/28/19 6:11 PM, Hashimoto, Janet wrote:
    Hi Eric: Thanks so much for providing the long-awaited report. I am now on an IPA assignment to Hawaii DOH, so will be reviewing as DOH (with Myron, Dale, et al), instead of EPA. I had to forward this to myself from my EPA address. Please use my new contact information (janet.hashimoto@doh.hawaii.gov). Otherwise, I do check my EPA email, but infrequently. I took a quick review. Very interesting results! The false negatives for Clostridium and Entero were a bit baffling and disturbing. The injection well seep results were exactly as Watson Okubo suspected. Would probably be helpful to have a conference call to discuss details with you. Thank you. Janet

    Janet Y. Hashimoto
    Clean Water Branch
    2827 Waimano Home Road. Hale Ola Building. Rm. 225
    Phone: 808-586-5131
    http://www.health.hawaii.gov/cwb/

    On Apr 16, 2019, at 5:49 PM, Hashimoto, Janet wrote:

    Hi Gary A. and Eric: I know we’ll be discussing the Mahaulepu PhyloChip report more tomorrow, but wanted to have you consider something in advance of call. After further discussion here at DOH, I’m wondering if one of your conclusions could be softened. I’m wondering if you might consider some wording changes or clarfications to bullet 3 on page 18; and the paragraph right before Conclusions regarding the “false negatives” indication and also mentioned on page 15 first paragraph.

    The bullet as currently written may be misinterpreted and/or blown out of proportion, so I think we should be careful about being too definitively conclusive. It would help DOH if a little bit more contextual information were added.

    Bullet currently reads:
    “Strong human fecal signal was found in a coastal seep along the beachfront of the Poipu resort area. The strength of the human signal was comparable in magnitude and microbial composition to injection wells in the Waikomo watershed. This finding is evidence that injection wells contaminate beaches via groundwater seeps and may present serious health risks to beachgoers.”

    As written, if I were a public member reading this, I would be quite alarmed and think there is a huge public health problem. Given that most of the sampling done to date in the Poipu area has not indicated or corroborated such findings, I would suggest adding that information here. Yes, it may be using the current FIB (ENT and CP), but the sampling in the usual BEACH monitoring has not shown this problem. Even though the W6 sample showed strong human signal and low CP and ENT levels, that was just one seep sample. According to Gary U, W6 also had extremely low flow and took quite some time to collect the sample during low tide. Given the low volumetric flow from this particular seep, I’m not sure that it would pose a significant public health problem, especially when the tide is in, which is when any public exposure issues would occur. Given low flow and when tide is in, it is very likely that the dilution would dissipate the fecal contaminants even though signal was high from this sample location.

    Could this bullet then be revised to provide additional information and change the alarm level in the conclusion? Suggest something like:
    “Strong human fecal signal was found in a coastal seep along the beachfront of the Poipu resort area. The strength of the human signal was comparable in magnitude and microbial composition to injection wells in the Waikomo watershed. This finding suggests is evidencethat injection wells may potentially contaminate beaches via groundwater seeps. and may present serious health risks to beachgoers. However, the sampling from this seep was taken during low tide, and the seep had extremely low volumetric flow. In addition, the ENT and C. perfringens fecal indicator bacteria levels in the sample were extremely low, and the long-term historical and current beach monitoring data has not indicated public health risk at Poipu beaches.”

    I think it would be helpful to DOH and the public to understand the information in context with the other information we know about the site. Otherwise, DOH will have a difficult time explaining. It would be better if we try to provide the explanation up front with the report, rather than try to do damage control after the fact. We can discuss further during the call. Just wanted to provide this for your consideration. We greatly appreciate the early discussion, so that we can anticipate the public reaction and be ahead of the potential media frenzy. Thanks. Janet

    As for false negatives, we can discuss potential explanation: maybe for cesspools, some residences may be using chlorine bleach or chlorine tablets that disinfects with each flush(??).

    Janet Y. Hashimoto
    Clean Water Branch
    2827 Waimano Home Road. Hale Ola Building. Rm. 225
    Pearl City, HI 96782
    Phone: 808-586-5131
    http://www.health.hawaii.gov/cwb/

    From: Eric DUBINSKY
    Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2019 8:16 AM
    To: Hashimoto, Janet
    Cc: Gary Andersen ; Ueunten, Gary R. ; Honda, Myron ; Mikami, Clinton (Dale) ; kirs@hawaii.edu; DANIEL OROS ; Wong, Alec Y
    Subject: Re: PhyloChip Report

    Hi Janet,

    We can revise the report to include any additional supporting information and data that would be helpful in interpreting the results. I agree it would be helpful to include more information about the flow and tide conditions during which the seeps were sampled. We should include that information for all the seeps samples in the body of the report where we describe the sampling conditions. We may also want to add more discussion about results from nearby BEACH samples that you mentioned. If DOH can provide these details then I can add them to the report and give more context to the results.

    As for the low CP in the cesspools, it’s odd that the ENT are high in the samples with CP <1. I think the disinfectant idea would be a more likely explanation if both CP and ENT were low. Then again, the ENT may be more resilient to and regrow after a disinfection event. We can discuss various explanations and include them in the report.

    I’m looking forward to discussing this more tomorrow.

    Eric

    This finding suggests is evidencethat injection wells may potentially contaminate beaches via groundwater seeps. and may present serious health risks to beachgoers. However, the sampling from this seep was taken during low tide, and the seep had extremely low volumetric flow. In addition, the ENT and C. perfringens fecal indicator bacteria levels in the sample were extremely low, and the long-term historical and current beach monitoring data has not indicated public health risk at Poipu beaches.”

    On May 17, 2019, at 6:51 PM, Hashimoto, Janet wrote:

    Eric: I re-read the report, and it reads very well now. Thanks for the edits and revision. Looks good, and only caught a few typos or missing words both in second paragraph of executive summary (see below). Otherwise, I think it’s ready.

    Will be working with Myron on comm strategy and how we roll this out. A few people already know it’s close to final and have requested report. Janet

    As part of the comm (community) I do not want to be lied to about something as serious as deadly bacteria.

    RKS, if you check the DOH website you will see that DOH’s test results confirmed Surfrider’s water testing results for the Waiopili. DOH’s tests also confirm Human Bacterium in the Waiopili but they forgot to mention this in their press release to the newspaper.


  4. drsurf June 7, 2019 2:48 pm Reply

    Having a hard time digesting the conclusions of the report and the direction of the article. Five years of monthly testing consistently showed levels 250 times allowable pollution levels, some 60+ tests, in sometimes cool temperate water. Why no mention of the abandoned dried and processes sewage dump facility? So that runoff has no part in the high numbers?


  5. Truth June 10, 2019 8:44 am Reply

    This is a total cover-up of the illegal Grove Farm open air raw sewage dump at Maha’ulepu waiopili.


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