Accountability Needed to Keep Hawaii Beaches Clean

by Pearl Hahn

Hawaii’s beach water quality was recently ranked sixth in the nation by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The few states that topped Hawaii included Delaware, Virginia, and New Hampshire. The waters of Hawaii attract over seven million visitors annually and provide year-round recreation for residents. Keeping them clean, however, is not an easy task.

An NRDC representative warned, “Pollution from dirty storm water runoff and sewage overflows continues to make its way to our beaches.” This is certainly the case in Hawaii. Contrary to popular belief, sewage is the least of our problems. Ninety-nine percent of the state’s beach water pollution stems from storm water runoff, whereas only one percent comes from sewage.

Stormwater is the result of precipitation events. The ground can only absorb so much water. What’s left becomes surface runoff, which end up in surface waterways or storm sewers. Along the way, it carries all sorts of potential contaminants that eventually make their way into the ocean.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for regulating stormwater pursuant to the Clean Water Act.  The EPA has wrangled with the city of Honolulu and the state in the past, and this summer is no exception. At the end of July, according to the EPA, Honolulu workers had illegally unloaded concrete rubble, metal debris, and asphalt into Ma’ili’ili Stream over a fifteen-month period.

Jeffrey Cudiamat, city director of facility maintenance, said an internal investigation was ongoing, but denied that the debris was dumped into the stream, saying it was rather placed along the bank to create a temporary access path.

A nonprofit watchdog group, EnviroWatch, had alerted state officials of the dumping. The EPA’s main concern is the potential for the debris to wash downstream and impact water quality. Due to lack of oversight and supervision, negligence, and flouting of environmental standards, taxpayers will be footing the bill to remove the debris and possibly pay federal fines and other penalties.

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