The Sewage Dilemma

It is no secret that Oahu is home to some of the world’s best waves- each year, hordes of surfers
from every corner of the globe flock to the island to take advantage of its golden sand, legendary surf spots, lush mountains, famous historical sites, world-class shopping and five-star beach front resorts.
With such attractions it is no surprise that Oahu hosts 4.5 million visitors a year and close to a million additional people who choose to call this island home.

Last month many of these tourists and residents alike were disappointed to find out that the world-
renowned Waikiki Beach and its surrounding surf spots were closed due to a massive sewage spill. Tropical
storm Kilo caused heavy rains that flooded many of the Honolulu streets. With nowhere else to go, the water ended up in our antiquated sewage system. Ordinarily, this might not have been a huge issue, but one of the two main pumping stations in Honolulu was shut down at the time, and as a result, 500,000 gallons of sewage flooded straight out into the ocean.

Newspapers reported that the Keawe Street wastewater pumping station was closed due to maintenance issues, but it appears as though it was actually down because of a scheduled upgrade. With Kilo nearby and statewide flash-flood warnings in effect, why was this “maintenance” not postponed? In addition, if there was a spill of that magnitude because of predicted heavy rain, what would have happened if the storm had actually hit?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time something like this has happened in Honolulu. The most major event in recent history took place in 2006, when a 42-inch sewage pipe in Waikiki ruptured and 48 million gallons of raw sewage had to be pumped directly into the Ala Wai Canal. All of that toxic, filthy water flowed right into the soon to be non-existent line-up at Ala Moana Bowls. Beaches were closed
and warning signs posted, but a few diehard surfers paddled out anyway. Most of them ended up in the hospital. In addition, a 34-year-old man suffered an even worse fate after falling into the Ala Wai Harbor. He contracted multiple strains of flesh-eating bacteria and doctors amputated his leg in an attempt to stop the spread of infection. He died from septic shock, which caused organ failure, soon afterwards.

This horrific sewage spill made national headlines and eventually resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issuing a consent decree. But there are smaller sewage spills – many of which don’t even make local headlines – that happen regularly. Last month, when every major newspaper in America was writing about the closure of Hawai’i’s “Iconic Waikiki Beach,” most Oahu residents weren’t even aware that there were two other sewage spills that took place the same day, and an additional four the next.

Kaneohe Bay, from Lilipuna Place to the Kaneohe Yacht Club, was closed because almost 5,000 gallons
of wastewater entered Kawa stream and ended up in the bay. People were advised not to go in the water from Halona Blow Hole to Erma’s Beach, in the Sandy’s Beach Park area, after a million gallons of treated,
but un-disinfected wastewater was released into the ocean. Residents were warned to stay out of the ocean near Hickam Beach when 24,000 gallons of wastewater was discharged and half of it entered a storm drain
and flowed out into the ocean. In addition, upwards of 180,000 gallons of partially disinfected wastewater ended up in Wahiawa’s Lake Wilson and 125,000 gallons of wastewater discharge entered Nuupia Pond in Kailua.


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