What’s in place to prevent another sewage spill?

With more rain in the forecast and two cyclones heading in our direction, what’s in place to prevent more sewage spills?

To find out, Always Investigating went right to the source at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment facility.

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater and storm water spills can be blamed on city and private infrastructure not at the ready — a few key pump stations that didn’t do their job or weren’t even on.

Can big enough changes be made in time for the next storms coming right on those disasters’ heels?

“We have systems particularly at Ala Moana to handle the high flows. We’ve also heightened the sensitivity of everybody (so they know to) give us a call sooner rather than later,” said Ross Tanimoto of Department of Environmental Services.

A control center at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Facility helps the city keeps tabs on what’s going right or wrong.

Always Investigating went to check out how it’s being monitored, watching the status of every city pump and plant island-wide, even a handful of private military ones that feed in.

If something fails, there are some measures in place.

There was a Pearl City pump down, but staff could also see an operator there in the door, who was already checking on it. A bigger problem would show up even more dramatically.

While there was no real emergency, if something were to go catastrophically wrong, the operators would see it and it would help to flag people on the scene that something needs to be fixed.

It’s already manned 24-7, but they plan to put more personnel there just in case during any future bad weather, especially into next week.

But they can’t reboot from the control center. That takes people on the ground at the facilities to be at the ready, and not everything has an electronic alarm that can be watched from afar.

Some of the remaining holes in the system that you might not know until it’s too late include manhole covers.

Also, any loose ends on construction projects. Always Investigating talked to the boss of the wastewater system just after she gave two key assignments on Thursday.

“I asked my supervisor, ‘I want you to do an inventory of every 70 pump stations,’ that all those pumps are running. (If) there’s any construction that has hampered or crippled the pump station, to make sure that it’s working,” said Lori Kahikina of the Department of Environmental Services.

Kahikina said any construction projects going on at the treatment plants or the pump stations, they have got to disengage and get the thing up and running because the storms are coming.

As for the inventory list and the report on the construct, “I asked my supervisor, directed it to him today, I need it by tomorrow. The storms are coming,” added Kahikina.

Honolulu’s sewer system is a network of 2,100 miles of pipes that aren’t supposed to get inundated with any stormwater. Crews are chasing everything from tree root holes and other cracks to residential tie-ins, like rain spouts, that aren’t supposed to be dumping water into the sewer.

“You’re more than doubling, tripling the flow that’s coming in, and again the majority is coming from illegal hookups so help us so we don’t have these overflows,” explained Kahikina. “There’s some groundwater infiltration. That’s a lower percentage.”

Always Investigating wondered if that much is coming from illegal hookups.

“Not necessarily. It’s all residential, but there are illegal hookups with the storm drains connecting. It’s illegal. I’m not saying our sister department did it intentionally, but everyone knows it’s illegal for the storm water to get into our systems,” said Kahikina.

Always Investigating has asked the city for just how many notices of violation they’ve given to homes illegally dumping runoff into the sewer and will follow on what the system and construction status list turns up Friday afternoon.

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