ALA WAI SPILLOVER: 'WELCOME TO THE 1880S'
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Surfer Shingo Sano, of Osaka, Japan, headed for the ocean at Ala Moana Beach Park yesterday despite being warned of polluted water from the Ala Wai sewage spill by city lifeguard Steve Clendenin, in the lifeguard stand. CLICK FOR LARGE
Sewage puts stain on isles
Some worry about the spill's environmental and tourism effects
The millions of gallons of raw sewage flowing daily into the Ala Wai Canal could clog the environment on Oahu's South Shore as well as the state's economic engine, some officials fear.
Eric Takamura, director of the city Department of Environmental Services, said as of late yesterday, well over 10 million gallons of untreated waste water has been diverted into the canal since Friday, when a sewer main ruptured during a heavy rain. Takamura and other officials called it the largest sewage spill on Oahu in decades.
While the city tallies the amount of sewage being released, others worry about the toll it is taking on the state.
Officials from the Sierra Club's Hawaii Chapter criticized the city's decision to divert sewage into the canal.
"Welcome to the 1880s," Director Jeff Mikulina said of the open sewer running past Waikiki and into the ocean past some of Oahu's most popular beaches.
Environmentalists worry about damage to the fragile coral reef and other marine life in the area.
"It's horrible. It's just not acceptable," said Melody Heidel of the Sierra Club. "That's the kind of pressure on an ecosystem that's hard to recover from."
In 2004, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit alleging deficiencies in the city's waste-water system.
"What's happening today is a result of a long-term history of poor design or mismanagement," Heidel said. "A lot of sewer lines have been down there since the '50s and '60s and we have an increased amount of people and therefore more usage."
High levels of bacteria had been detected in some areas, including off Ala Moana Beach Park, one of the state's busiest beaches.
Mikulina and others noted that the sewage filling the canal is happening at the doorstop of the state's main economic engine: Waikiki.
Rex Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said tourism officials are concerned about how the sewage and bad weather will affect the tourism industry.
"People are hearing that you can't go swimming in Hawaii because there is sewage in the water. That's not the kind of stuff we want our visitors, our potential visitors, to hear," Johnson said.
And the problem could extend into next week if the city's quick fix does not work.
City crew members and private contractors sealed holes and cracks to the ruptured pipe yesterday, Takamura said.
Crew members poured 30 cubic yards of "special high-strength" concrete over the pipe at 10 a.m. and will wait 24 hours for it to set.
Takamura said they will then turn on the pipe to pump raw sewage through. If the fix fails, they will have to cut the pipe and replace it with a new one, which could take the repairs into next week as the raw sewage continues to flow into the canal.
State health officials, meanwhile, say they are looking into the spill and have updated the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We will look at how things have got to that point," said Lawrence Lau, deputy director of the state Environmental Health Administration.
City and state officials have been conducting water-sample testing at 28 sites between Kewalo Basin and Diamond Head after the 42-inch force main ruptured Friday on Kaiolu Street in Waikiki.
"For the most part, we've been pretty lucky and the current has been taking the sewage straight out to sea," state Health Department spokesman Kurt Tsue said. "But that could change at any time."
Warning signs remain posted at Magic Island, Ala Wai Yacht Harbor and a site fronting popular surf spots called Ala Moana Bowls, Rock Pile and In-Betweens.
Bacteria count levels remain high at Magic Island and the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, Tsue said.
Health officials strongly advise the public to stay out of the water in the affected areas.
Bobbi Lee, conference director of the National Scholastic Surfing Association-Hawaii, canceled the last day of a three-day Jamba Juice/Verizon NSSA Hawaiian Regional Championships surf meet at the Kewalo Basin yesterday after she was informed that sewage from the canal was flowing into the area.
"It is pretty scary. ... I don't want anything to happen to these children," Lee said. Six children were in the water when Lee canceled it.
Though no signs were posted at Ala Moana Beach Park, lifeguards warned beach-goers to stay out of the water.
"If Magic Island is polluted and the tide is coming in, how can it not be polluted here?" said Steve Clendenin, longtime lifeguard at Ala Moana Beach Park. "I wouldn't go in the water unless I had to."
Added lifeguard Jeff Kozlovich, "I'll swim with box jellyfish and sharks. But raw sewage, forget it."
The Associated Press and Star-Bulletin reporter Crystal Kua contributed to this report.