[ OUR OPINION ]
City should speed up
overhaul of sewage system
IT SEEMS that whenever it rains on Oahu, sewage pours into streams and the ocean. Causes of the spills vary by location, but their regularity during bad weather suggests grave systemic problems exist.
Recent rainstorms have overwhelmed Oahu's sewage facilities, resulting in numerous spills of wastewater.
Wastewater spills damage the environment, endanger human health and tar the image of Hawaii for tourism. While warning signs posted along waterways and beaches keep residents and visitors from potential harm, they don't hold much appeal for frolicking in one of the state's primary attractions. The city should accelerate repairs and expansion of the system.
For almost two weeks, swimmers and others who use the ocean for recreation were told to stay out of the water along the Windward coast because of high bacterial levels resulting from spills from sewage treatment facilities during storms. Late last month and again last week, rain overwhelmed Windward systems, causing hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage to erupt from manhole covers and overflow into drainage ditches and streams.
At one point, the list of contaminated areas read like a geographic catalogue of Oahu: Lake Wilson, Pokai Bay, Waimalu Stream, Pearl Harbor, Puha Stream, Enchanted Lake, Kawa Stream, Kaneohe Bay, Kaelepulu Stream, Kalihi Stream, Kailua Bay and Keehi Lagoon.
Meanwhile, city officials are struggling to fix a major rupture in a sewer line that pumped nearly 2 million gallons of raw sewage into the ocean near Sand Island. The immediate difficulty is pinpointing the break in the pipe that serves almost half of urban Honolulu and repairing it, which may take weeks.
However, the city also may face fines since its sewer system has been under federal scrutiny for more than 10 years and has been under orders to upgrade and repair facilities, particularly at the Sand Island plant. The number of spills since the beginning of the year leaves "not much chance" that the city will meet compliance, according to Libby Stoddard of the state Clean Water Branch.
Improving the system to comply with federal standards is an expensive undertaking, estimated at a whopping $1 billion. Much of the infrastructure is 60 to 70 years old and frequent breaks in lines and at facilities attest to the need for repairs and expansion as new housing developments come on line.
In recent years, City Council members have been critical of Mayor Harris's transferring money from the sewer fund to balance budgets. Although repairs are taking place --$500 million worth since 1999 -- the city has been unable to prevent frequent spills when rainwater floods the system.
For now, swimmers and boaters can get back in the ocean on the Windward side and the Sand Island line will be patched in due time. But the next spell of stormy weather will likely touch off more spills and again it won't be safe to go into the water.