Monday, February 22, 1999

City asks groups
to monitor pollution
in Mamala Bay

Contaminants such as trash and
grease are carried throughout
the watershed by rain water

By Lori Tighe


To find the No. 1 source of water pollution threatening Mamala Bay, you need look no further than your own back yard.

It is "nonpoint source" pollution -- trash, cooking grease and pesticides tossed outside by residents. It is nearly impossible to track.

Rain water sweeps contaminants into Mamala Bay. The pollution flows down the mountains throughout the Honolulu watershed, a 219-square-mile area.


The city recently asked 62 community, private and environmental groups to monitor the problem in the watershed for signs of improvement or deterioration.

The information will help the city target problems.

"People are causing it. Public education needs to be addressed. We know there's a problem out there. Do we know exactly where it is? No," said Eldon Franklin, retired chief of city environmental quality.

Polluted runoff is the leading cause of coastal water pollution throughout the United States.

The Clean Water Action Plan, spurred by Vice President Al Gore in February 1998, focuses on the "watershed approach" to meet water quality goals. Rather than targeting individual businesses, the government targets a region, such as the Honolulu watershed.

The EPA asked the city to take the lead on the nonpoint pollution problem as part of the permitting process for its two wastewater treatment plants.

"If we don't preserve this land that affects our shoreline, we essentially will kill the bay," said Franklin, now assistant chief in the city's engineering and construction department. "We're opening ourselves up to cooperation and exchange of information. The community can make a tremendous impact."

Reaction from the 62 groups, ranging from University of Hawaii researchers and politicians to state and federal workers and environmentalists, has been guardedly optimistic.

"The city is making a big shift from 'We never had a problem,'" said Fred Madlener of Hawaii's Thousand Friends, "to recognizing the problem and asking the community for help."

Carol Wilcox, on the staff of Rep. Hermina Morita, said, "Hopefully it's a good start to a wider, more in-depth interaction of agencies and people."

Mamala Bay, stretching from Diamond Head to Barbers Point, "holds the most vital interest to the state politically, economically, socially, educationally, you name it," Franklin said.

Mamala Bay pollution prompted a lawsuit filed by environmentalists in 1990 claiming the city needed secondary waste-water treatment.

The lawsuit in turn prompted the four-year, $9 million Mamala Bay Commission Study, "one of the most comprehensive microbiological studies of a marine environment ever performed," Franklin said.

Nonpoint source pollution is also the worst contaminant in Waikiki, Ala Moana and Queen's Surf beaches, according to the study.

Mayor Jeremy Harris said: "More and better monitoring of the bay is needed and this will require the cooperation and expertise of many groups and individuals."

After a heavy rainfall, the bay violates the state's water quality standards for a short time, Franklin said.

"Theoretically the state should close some beaches after a heavy rainfall."

Hawaii's water standards are five times stricter than the federal EPA's, Franklin said.

Two-thirds of the annual water runoff into Mamala Bay originates from nonpoint sources, the study said.

The other third comes from treated waste water. About 80 percent of beach trash comes from nonpoint runoff.

"Nonpoint water pollution is also a major threat to Hawaii's drinking water," Franklin said.

The city's first goal is to develop a monitoring program to identify and quantify sources of contaminants flowing into Mamala Bay.

"It's a good first step," said Eric DeCarlo, University of Hawaii oceanography research professor.

"You need to get people in the room and talking."

The city's next meeting with the 62 groups is 2 p.m., Feb. 25, at Ala Wai Golf Club House.

E-mail to City Desk

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