City water moves must respect isle's unique ecosystem


POSTED: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The City and County of Honolulu recently attempted to defend its lobbying efforts to lower our state's water pollution limits (”;A matter of standards,”; Star-Bulletin, April 23). Let's be clear. No one objects to adjusting pollution standards based on hard science.

Unfortunately, science is not controlling this issue—politics is. The city would prefer to adopt the lowest possible pollution standards allowed in the nation, rather than spending money to upgrade an outdated and broken sewer system.

The city proposes to allow more bacteria and other pollutants in our oceans, streams and waterways without studying the specific impacts of lowering Hawaii's currently strict pollution standards. Hawaii is different from the mainland and requires a different analysis. We have 85 percent of the coral reefs in the United States. We use our waters year-round. We also have fish that are not typically found on the mainland and are consumed in far greater quantity in Hawaii. Shouldn't we consider the impacts of lowering our pollution regulations on these unique aspects of Hawaii, as well as the impacts on our threatened and endangered plants and animals that are, quite simply, not found on the mainland?

To this end, the Department of Health proposes moving away from one mainland standard—quantities of Enterococcus bacteria found in the water—because, somewhat ironically, the mainland test doesn't work in Hawaii. Really? Then why are we proposing to wholesale adopt other federal standards?

Another oddity is that the city and Department of Health proposes to define all waters further than 500 meters as “;infrequently used coastal recreational waters,”; which is the lowest standard contemplated in federal law (thus allowing the greatest amount of pollution to be emitted). The proposed basis for this standard is that waters more than 500 meters are “;rarely”; used. A number of surfers, divers, snorkelers, and paddlers would disagree with this unfounded assertion.

Wouldn't a prudent and scientific approach require consultation with the necessary scientists and a thorough analysis before adopting standards that could put our fragile marine ecosystem at risk? Aren't our beaches worth taking a little extra time before rushing to act? What would be the impacts on our economy of a national news story reporting that the state and city had lowered the water quality standards and increased the public health risk of swimming and fishing in Hawaii's waters?

Quite simply, the city would rather delay and cut corners than spend the money necessary to update our sewer system for the future. Instead, the city's already paid over $7 million of tax money to a California law firm to defend (and lose!) a lawsuit whose sole purpose is to get the City and County of Honolulu to upgrade inadequate and faulty sewer pipes. Wow. Wouldn't that money have been better spend on actually fixing our sewer system?