Public advised to stay out of Kahaluu Lagoon due to bacteria, sewage contamination

A Windward Oahu lagoon where many people paddle and fish has become a breeding ground for high levels of bacteria.

The Hawaii Department of Health wants people to stay out of Kahaluu lagoon and the channel leading to Kaneohe Bay after water samples showed unusually high levels of bacteria.

They think the water is contaminated with sewage, but are looking into the problem to make sure.

In September, the department started testing the water and confirmed the high levels of bacteria.

“On a bright sunny day, we’ll find bacteria levels in the 10s or 20s, maybe up to 100,” said Gary Gill, deputy director of environmental health.

That’s pretty normal, but the levels they’re finding now are raising concerns.

“Now, we’re finding it in the thousands in the lagoon,” said Gill.

The high levels have now prompted the department to bring out signs which urge the public to stay out of the water.

“It’s almost equivalent to what we saw in the Ala Wai Canal when there was a huge sewage spill five years ago,” said Gill.

While signs have now been posted, a fisherman who wished to remain anonymous says those signs should have been posted much earlier.

“Finally today they came over and I asked them, ‘What is this and how long did you guys know?’ They said one month and now only you guys putting up signs? Why didn’t you guys say something before that?” said the fisherman.

So what’s causing the high bacteria levels? The DOH is still trying to find the source, but there are some possibilities.

“Because we’re in a rural area, we’re not on a country sewage system. Every homeowner along the area has to maintain a cesspool or septic system,” said Flora Obayashi, chair, Kahaluu Neighborhood Board.

Those cesspools could be contributing to the unusually high bacteria levels, but until they know for sure, the problem can’t be fully addressed.

“I think this is an urgent health situation for the community, but I think it’s not likely to be resolved anytime in the next few weeks. In fact, this is something that is likely going to have to go on for a number of years,” said Gill.

People with open wounds or weakened immune systems are especially at risk for infection in these waters, so again just stay out of the water.

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