'I'm still not going in' contaminated waters
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
Surfers, paddlers and boaters are steering clear of the waters surrounding the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, where contamination signs still warn people to stay out of the water.
While most of the pollution warning signs along Waikiki beaches have been removed, some remain along the Ala Wai Canal, at Ala Wai Yacht Harbor and at Magic Island Lagoon. Forty-eight million gallons of untreated sewage was pumped into the Ala Wai Canal starting on March 24 when a 42-inch sewer main ruptured. The pipe has been fixed but the pollution lingers.
The canal is typically used for paddling, but since the sewage spill it has been empty, and most paddlers don't foresee returning anytime soon.
"Everyone I talked to is not going to paddle in the Ala Wai until it gets cleared out, especially with the news of that poor guy who got strep," said Ben Ancheta, head men's coach for Koa Kai Canoe Club.
Several canoe clubs have moved their vessels off the canal just as the racing preseason is about to begin and more people are turning out for practice.
Koa Kai moved its boats to Ke'ehi Lagoon, but even that area has some parents worried, Ancheta said. "We're not forcing anybody to go into the canoe to practice if they're not comfortable with it."
The Outrigger canoe club also left the Ala Wai, moving its boats to two locations at Diamond Head and Hui Nalu's site in Hawai'i Kai, head coach Matthew Kresser said.
But, he said, he's not sure how much better Diamond Head is because friends have said the water smells there and they can feel sewage on their skin.
In Waikiki, news of Oliver Johnson's serious illness that he may have contracted from bacteria in the water has kept people out of the water, signs or no signs.
City lifeguard Capt. Paul Merino said he and other lifeguards wouldn't swim in Waikiki for at least three weeks.
"Now if we have to work; we have to work," Merino said. "If someone's in trouble, we go in. There's no doubt about it. But our play activities and swimming to stay in shape is being done in pools and elsewhere than the south shore."
Surfers and boaters at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor said they won't be going in the water any time soon. Even after the state takes the signs down, they'll wait a while longer.
Surfers Kevin Akeo and Sam Marques, who were hanging out opposite the Hilton lagoon, said they'd wait for at least a month before going in, and they won't be eating any fish caught there, either. The limu on the rocks changed from green to brown and that wasn't a good sign, Marques said.
However, they could imagine a scenario where they might venture into the water.
"If the waves come 8, 10 feet, I think we would be out," Akeo said.
DOH said preliminary counts from yesterday at surf sites are dropping and an all-clear might be handed down today except at Ala Moana Bowls, which is at the mouth of the harbor.
But boat owner Larry Jensen and others said they wouldn't want to take any chances.
"Even if the reports are good, I'm still not going in unless I have to," Jensen said.
People at the harbor reported seeing paddlers and surfers still going into the water where warning signs are posted. One surfer was at Kaiser's, but no one was in the canal or in the harbor at midday yesterday. Akeo said about eight people were surfing Tuesday and he expected more yesterday once school was out.
Outrigger coach Kresser blamed developers, the city and the state for allowing the canal to become so degraded, but said he hoped recent events would galvanize an effort to make the canal clean enough to become the epicenter for Hawaiian canoe racing.
"My vision is the canal can be the same color, the same translucence as the shoreline," Kresser said.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at email@example.com.
Clarification: The counts for Clostridium perfringens at three Waikiki Beach monitoring stations Groin, Queens and Natatorium are within what is considered an acceptable range, at or below five forming colonies per 100 mL of water. A previous version of this story did not make that clear.