Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Saturday, June 9, 2001

Can anybody stop
the Trash-bergs?

Just over seven years ago -- March 24, 1994, to be exact -- Oahu was struck by a violent rainstorm, similar to, but longer lasting than the gully-washer we experienced last Tuesday.

In a Water Ways column the following week, I described its effects on the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor and to the Waikiki Yacht Club, in particular.

"The Ala Wai Canal had all the appearances of the Colorado River," I wrote. "It was dark tan in color, rolling like a carnival ride and carrying clumps of debris the size of an executive's desk."

Thirteen inches of rain had fallen in the previous 24 hours up in Manoa Valley and as the water flowed down to the sea, it carried in its muddy current anything that would float. Tree limbs, logs, branches, basketballs, foam coolers, rubber slippers - and all of it solidifying into drifting trash-bergs.

As the trash-bergs washed down the canal, the debris trap beneath the Ala Moana bridge quickly filled to its capacity. Then, suddenly, its outboard boom broke loose and tons of captured trash swept out into the raging flow.

Downstream, the rows of boats moored at the WYC quickly became the resting place for the released debris.

The combined effect of those trash-bergs, a 50-knot wind and the rush of water soon snapped mooring chains and docks berthing scores of boats were threatened with destruction.

Through the courageous efforts of its members, the club's boats and docks were saved that night, but it was an experience all who were involved will remember.

It was certainly in my mind last Tuesday as I watched the tons of water-borne refuse once again piling up in the debris trap under the bridge. Fortunately, the modifications made to the trap in recent years helped to keep it from failing and by Wednesday, its contents were taken to the dump.

However, it is the debris trap's contents that poses the larger question. Why does the Ala Wai harbor continue to receive such a large amount of floating trash with every significant rainfall? And correspondingly, will something ever be done about it?

In every study and master plan made over the past decade or more, curtailing this hazard to navigation and its visual blight has been identified as a top priority, and yet the problem exists unabated.

Over three years ago, numerous people expressing concern for the canal's water quality created an organization called the Ala Wai Canal Watershed Improvement Project. Its mission was stated as: "Coming together to care for the water from the mountains to the sea."

Since then it has shortened its name to the Ala Wai Watershed Association and has conducted uncounted meetings and visioning sessions throughout the area. Perhaps more significantly, it has also received over $1 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration to fund public education and water improvement projects within the watershed.

After once again experiencing the trash-berg onslaught brought down by a heavy rain, the Ala Wai boating community can't be blamed for wondering just how long it will be before some tangible evidence of progress will be seen from this publicly funded group.

Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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