Expect more bacteria warning signs thanks to federal mandate

Good news for Ko Olina beach goers: The state says bacteria levels are now back to normal.

The Hawaii Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch issued an advisory Thursday saying that the bacteria levels at Lagoon One were above the warning threshold.

Test results came in Friday afternoon showing that the levels have gone down.

The state tells us that beach goers will likely see more warning signs at beaches statewide. It now has to follow new protocols because federal officials want the Clean Water Branch to alert the public more than ever.

The warning signs were only up for a few hours. Even after they were taken down, some families weren’t quite ready to dive into the ocean.

Alexandra Washington, who was visiting from Michigan, said she had concerns, but “that’s just because I’m pretty hyper-vigilant with the kids, so I probably will tell them just to stay out of the ocean and just play on the side.”

“I think I can wait, because if there was still bacteria, I don’t want it getting all over me,” said Washington’s son, Luke.

The state says the signs will be a more common sight to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act.

When the bacteria level hits a threshold of 130 per 100 milliliters of water, the state will be required to alert the public and put up warning signs. At that level, the EPA estimates 36 people can get sick out of a thousand who go in the water.

The state adds that it does not mean that the beach is closed, but it should serve as a precaution for those who have an increased chance of contracting an illness from going in the water, especially children, the elderly, and those with a weakened immune system.

“Because this is the new norm, it’s going to be incumbent upon the Clean Water Branch to basically educate the public, to inform them, to explain what this signage means to each individual,” said Stuart Yamada with the Clean Water Branch. “This is all about us sharing the data. You can make your own decision, but these things are going to happen, even on the best of the beaches, including Ko Olina.”

As for the cause of the increased bacteria level, Yamada says he’s confident it had nothing to do with the recent sewage spills in the area.

State health officials say the higher levels of bacteria were probably caused by the recent high surf kicking up the sand near the shoreline, which had higher levels of bacteria underneath the top layer.

The state tests the water at Lagoon One twice a month.

With the new protocols, it could mean that some beaches will not be tested as often because of staffing shortages.

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