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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 14, 2006

Let beach users know about water quality

There needs to be a better way to get water quality data to those who swim, boat and fish along our shorelines.

This information gap is nothing new, of course, but it seems especially problematic now that there's so much to worry about in the wake of massive sewage spills.

With some assists from the state, the city tests water for bacteria counts and posts signs at many of the recreation spots warning people against entering the water. But the effectiveness of this measure has limits.

Staffing constraints keep agencies focused on the most popular swimming spots rather than, say, near boating areas. Wisely, state health officials have urged the addition of two testing sites at Ala Wai Boat Harbor.

And there's the inescapable time lag between the sample collection and the hours needed for cultivation of the bacteria for an adequate count. So it would be impossible to get up-to-the-minute data, anyway.

But even within these limits, it would serve the public to present bacteria counts on the signs in a way that explains the relative water quality in plain language.

As it is, a swimmer's only indicator of the water's safety is the presence or absence of the sign itself.

O'ahu is lucky to have volunteer groups like the Surfrider Foundation, which posts counts on its site (www.surfrider.org/oahu/enterodata.htm), but a layman's translation is needed. It's really the duty of the government to provide that for us.