Environmental groups: Wastewater systems need upgrades after storm-related sewage spills

Due to the heavy rains that we’ve had this week, there have been a number of sewage spills, raising questions about who’s overseeing the sewage system.

Earlier Thursday, the Clean Water Branch of the State Dept. of Health posted alerts for 8 sewage spills, one each on the Big Island and Kauai, and six on Oahu.

One spill KHON2 has been following this week happened in the Ala Moana area, where 393,000 gallons of sewage spilled into the ocean.

Further east, warning signs are posted at Sandy Beach after nearly 1 million gallons of partially-treated sewage spilled from the Hawaii American Water plant.

When asked if someone got in contact with the polluted water, plant manager Lee Mansfield said “you have a chance of picking up a pathogen if you intake the water.”

About 125,000 gallons of sewage overflowed from a manhole in Kailua, nearly 5,000 gallons in Kaneohe Bay and over 187,000 gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into Lake Wilson in Wahiawa.

On top of that, The Navy also said the rain caused two spills at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

So who’s supposed to make sure these don’t happen again and what’s being done about it?

The Clean Water Branch said that if investigators determine that these spills could have been avoided, then fines will be imposed.

Environmental groups said more needs to be done. “All of these things around the island, this shouldn’t be happening, said Stuart Coleman of Surfrider Foundation Hawaii. “I mean, this was a major storm, but it wasn’t a hurricane and it wasn’t something that we can expect to be much, much worse.”

“It’s completely unacceptable that it is now taken a standard that when it rains, there is sewage on the beach,” said Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii. “We can’t live in that kind of society.”

Townsend said the rash of spills points to a much bigger problem that will need a lot of money to fix, so it will take some drastic moves from lawmakers, such as raising tourism taxes or property taxes to bring on the necessary upgrades.

“Raising taxes is always a dicey issue but it’s an opportunity for the city council and the mayor to find the right sweet spot in terms of how much to pay to charge for high end homeowners,” she said.

The environmental groups also point out that equipment to test water samples also need to be upgraded — results from samples usually take 24 hours and there’s technology out there that can get results much quicker.

“And so basically, they’re saying you shouldn’t have been swimming or surfing yesterday, so it’s too late and the measurements are too inaccurate,” Coleman said.

The Environmental Protection Agency can also impose fines if the State Department of Health determines that violations occurred. The fines can be up to $25,000 per day of contamination.

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