New rules require public notification when high bacteria levels detected in water

Signs were removed along Kaimana Beach in Waikiki Friday after bacteria levels in the water returned to normal levels.

Before that, beachgoers were urged to stay out of the water due to risk of infection.

Jennifer Martensson was ready to jump into the ocean with her two daughters on spring break, but after seeing the signs, she changed her plans.

“I was wondering what was going on when there was so much parking on a beautiful day here,” she said. “When we got down here, we see the bacteria signs, so I probably won’t let the kids go into the water. I probably won’t go in myself.”

Advisory signs initially went up Thursday after tests showed enterococci in the water exceeded water quality standards. The beach itself remained open.

The signs are part of a new regulation that requires the state to inform the public when bacteria levels are higher than normal.

We first told you about the new rules in January. The state Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch routinely tests bacteria levels in the water.

“When it goes above the standard, we should be notifying the public so then they can make intelligent decisions, ‘Do I want to recreate here or not?'” said Stuart Yamada with the Clean Water Branch.

Since the state began sharing high bacteria level information with the public in January, signs have been posted nine times. That’s a big difference from last year, when no information was made available.

When signs are posted, is it still safe to swim? Earlier Friday, we found plenty of people still in the water, despite the warning.

“There will probably be a bigger risk of contracting some sort of infection, skin infection,” Yamada replied. “This goes for everyone all the time — you should try to avoid entering the water with open cuts or wounds, because the ocean is not bacteria free. You are inviting infection of some sort when you do that.”

Some beachgoers said they appreciated the signs, but wanted more information.

“I wish there was more information, actually,” said beachgoer Mike Uptegrove. “What does that mean, really? What does that mean for us? Supposedly it’s safe to swim and whatnot, but if that’s the case, why even post it?”

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction for sure, but yeah, (I’d like) more information,” said beachgoer Erin Oda. “Though the (Clean Water Branch’s) website does share quite a bit of information, so that helps, but you kind of want immediately, you want immediate information.”

The state still doesn’t know what caused the spike in bacteria levels.

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