'You can't even put your feet in water'
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
WAIKIKI — After days of raw sewage spilling into the Ala Wai Canal, what many people feared the most happened yesterday as disappointed tourists read signs that warned them to stay out of the water at some of Waikiki's most famous beaches.
Amanda Gorry, of Australia, said people come to Hawai'i for the beaches, and she was disappointed that she couldn't put her infant's feet in the water.
"It's a real shame it's contaminated," Gorry said. "I feel sorry for the marine life."
Gorry's daughter, Caitlin, 17, said it was scary that you couldn't go in the water. Caitlin ignored the signs and waded in but a city official recommended that she stay out, the teenager said.
"You can't even put your feet in the water," she said.
State Health Department spokesman Kurt Tsue said warning signs went up at Kahanamoku and Fort DeRussy beaches in an area in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the Hale Koa Hotel.
Tsue said a shift in winds apparently sent the sewage back toward Waikiki. A major sewer line rupture Friday has sent tens of millions of gallons of sewage into the Ala Wai Canal as city emergency crew worked around the clock to fix the break.
Signs already had been posted along the canal and at Magic Island.
More problems surfaced when the city announced another sewage spill at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant that occurred Tuesday night. About 108,000 gallons spilled there due to malfunctioning equipment. Some sewage was believed to have entered Honolulu Harbor. An investigation into that spill was under way.
By yesterday afternoon, engineers had completed repairs of the Kai'olu Street main and began pressurizing sewer lines. The last of five pumps that were used to divert untreated wastewater into the Ala Wai was shut down at 1:10 p.m., according to a news release from the city.
But even if the repair work holds, intermittent bypasses may be required that would dump sewage into the canal until some time today. And if heavy rain hits the area again, even more sewage would have to be dumped into the canal.
The city can't risk putting too much stress on the newly repaired Waikiki line while it is still hardening and curing, said Eric Takamura, director of the city Environmental Services.
"This is not as simple as flicking a light switch," Takamura said in a press release.
City spokesman Mark Ma-tsunaga said the city is investigating if nearby pile driving associated with recent construction in Waikiki cracked the sewer main. The city asked the contractor working on nearby Launiu Street to hold off on pile driving until tomorrow while the repairs were completed, Matsunaga said.
As the city prepared to bring the repaired force main on line yesterday morning, signs warning people to stay out of the water were being posted at the Waikiki beaches.
Crews posted 103 signs warning of sewage contamination along a 1-mile stretch of coastline from Magic Island and the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, past the heliport, the Hilton Hawaiian Village pier, all the way to the Fort DeRussy Beach fronting Hale Koa Hotel.
Matsunaga said the city is translating the warning signs into Japanese.
Watson Okubo, of the Department of Health, also advised surfers and swimmers to stay out of these surf spots: Ala Moana Bowls, Rock Pile, Kaiser's, Kewalo's and Fours.
"That stretch is terrible. That water is nasty," Okubo said. "So people should stay out of there."
Tourists at the beach in front of the Hilton said they were very disappointed about the contamination and they weren't too happy about the weather, either.
"The first thing we noticed on our first day Sunday was that there were more ponchos than lei," said Michael Wong, from Vancouver, British Columbia. Wong and Calvin Mah, also of Vancouver, said they tried to make light of the situation and vowed to have fun anyway.
"It's forced us to find the seedier side of Hawai'i," Wong joked.
High bacteria counts from samples taken on Sunday were the reason the Waikiki beaches were closed, said Okubo, chief of the DOH monitoring and analysis section.
"The results were significantly elevated from the previous day," he said while checking signs with city officials at Duke Kahana-moku Beach near the Hilton Hawaiian Village. "The clostridium data also increased. It told me there is fecal contamination making its way down this side."
The department looks at Clostridium perfringens counts in conjunction with enterococci counts to determine if action must be taken. Samples collected Monday at Hilton Lagoon and Hale Koa contained an estimated 1,700 forming colonies of enterococci per 100 milliliters of water. That is far above the state's acceptable level of 7 forming colonies per 100 milliliters of water. On Tuesday, the number dropped to 320 forming colonies at the Hilton and 100 at Hale Koa.
About 100 people were on the beach in front of the Hilton hotel late yesterday morning and everyone was heeding the signs.
Leona Bix, of Arizona, had brought her mother, Hildegard Hakos, of Arizona, to Hawai'i as a gift upon retirement. They praised the beaches and didn't like that they couldn't go in the water, but said the weather was their big disappointment.
"The beaches are great but the weather hasn't been," Bix said. "But it's not like you can order that up."
A snorkel and mask rental business was suffering because of the weather and the contamination, said Kaai Bruhn, of Waikiki Beach Activities.
Bruhn said he feels sorry for the tourists who aren't able to take full advantage of the waters because of the contamination. Getting to Hawai'i isn't easy or cheap and it's a long way to come for everyone, so when something like this happens the visitors suffers, he said.
"I talk to some families and this is the only vacation they can afford their whole life," Bruhn said.Advertiser Staff Writer Robbie Dingeman contributed to this report. Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser .com or 234-5266.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at email@example.com.