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Jackson Healy / The Garden Island
Water in the Nawiliwili Stream and Kalapaki Beach turn brown following heavy rains, as seen on Feb. 21, 2023.
LIHU‘E — That’s not a chocolate bar in the water.
Environmental organization Surfrider Kaua‘i’s Blue Water Task Force found potentially dangerous amounts of bacteria in several of Kaua‘i’s most used streams and surf spots this week, suggesting high levels of fecal contamination.
Surfrider Kaua‘i checks streams, rivers and surf spots across the Garden Island for the enterococcus bacterium, a federally recognized indicator of fecal presence in water, once a month.
In its February report, only five of the 17 tested sites — Waiohai, Anahola Bay, Waikoko, Kealia and Kahili (Rock Quarries) — showed indications of low bacteria presence, measuring below 35 enterococcus organisms per 100 milliliters of water.
Two sites — Koloa Landing and Kuhio Beach (Middles) — showed indications of medium bacteria presence, measuring between 36 and 130 enterococci per 100 milliliters of water.
However, 10 sites — Kalapaki Bay, Pakala, Hanama‘ulu Beach, Kalihiwai, Hanalei (“the Bowl”), Hanama‘ulu Stream, Wainiha Stream, Nawiliwili Stream, Moloa‘a Stream and Hanalei River — all measured over 130 enterococci per 100 milliliters of water, indicating high bacteria presence and exceeding state water quality standards.
Some of the sites weren’t even close to state standards. Nawiliwili Stream samples contained 4,352 enterococcus organisms per 100 milliliters of water. Moloa‘a Stream had 6,131
organisms, and the Hanalei River came in at a whopping 6,867 organisms — more than 50 times above the state’s maximum standards.
While the enterococcus bacterium can cause infections, arguably a greater concern are the other microorganisms that accompany it. As an indicator of fecal matter, the presence of enterococcus also suggests the presence of additional pathogens — many of which are even more likely to cause illnesses.
“Waters that have high concentrations of these bacteria indicate that there are many types of bacteria and viruses in those waters that can cause sickness to humans,” said Carl Berg, Surfrider Hawai‘i Kaua‘i Chapter senior scientist. “The most common sicknesses that our water users get are eye, nose and throat infections, but they also often get stomach infections, upset stomachs and diarrhea.”
Berg also notes that surfers commonly end up with infections after entering highly contaminated waters with open wounds, adding that such infections have the possibility to worsen if left to develop.
“Those can spread if not treated right away,” he said.
Contamination of Kaua‘i’s waters by fecal matter and additional pollutants primarily occurs in two ways:
w Heavy rains create surface runoff, pushing animal feces and other contaminants into the island’s rivers;
w Rainwater percolates into the ground, pushing underground waste and chemicals out into the water.
“When it rains a lot, then all of the bacteria that are in the cesspools or the septic systems that the systems haven’t digested yet — all of that stuff gets flushed out of the cesspools, out of the groundwater, into the gullies, the streams and rivers, or right out onto the beach itself,” Berg said.
Berg notes both surface runoff and groundwater intrusion incidents are exacerbated during the island’s wet season.
“All of our beaches — Hanalei, Anahola, Kalihiwai — when you get a lot of rain there, it’s going to move mauka-makai, from the mountains into the ocean,” he said.
In an attempt to limit fecal runoff, the state Legislature passed Act 125 in 2017, requiring all cesspools in the state to be replaced by 2050. According to the state Department of Health, Hawai‘i has approximately 88,000 cesspools, releasing about 53 million gallons of untreated sewage into the ground every day. About 14,000 of those cesspools are on Kaua‘i, according to the department.
For individuals looking to protect themselves from potentially polluted waters, Berg recommends rinsing off with fresh water immediately after leaving natural waters, as well as avoiding water that looks visibly off.
“I think the Department of Health has a little slogan,” he said. “‘If it’s brown, turn around.’”
Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-245-0427 or email@example.com.
How come no mention that the likely source of fecal matter is from pigs! Kinda obvious. There are very few homes along Moloa’a stream, in fact only near the ocean. That stream, like most, drains a very large area. DO you know how many pigs inhabit those watersheds?
Sorry people of Hanamaulu you don’t matter. no plan to take any steps to decrease bacteria count in your stream or Hanamaulu Bay… all the State/ county will tell you is stay out of the water….. forever!!!
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