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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 27, 2006

City preparedness limited Ala Wai spill

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A state Health Department hotline can tell you the water quality status of the Ala Wai and our public beaches. Call: 586-5826.

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Timing is indeed everything and this time, the city was prepared.

Despite a glitch in the process that caused 800 gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai last week, that amount was nowhere near the 48 million we saw pumped into the canal in March. That brought ridicule, not just from local residents, but from news media and commentators around the world, and the city still faces fines and sanctions from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the spill.

Since then, however, the city has taken decisive action by placing a sunken pipe in the Ala Wai, creating a major bypass conduit to be used in the event of a break in the main sewer.

The bypass was put to the test last Tuesday when workers found a crack 3 feet long and 4 inches wide in the 42-year-old sewer main in Waikiki.

For the most part, the mechanism worked. And, more importantly, the city was ready, with an emergency plan in place.

The sewage from the cracked main line was redirected to the bypass, which sends the sewage on to the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.

An improperly set valve caused the spill before the setting could be corrected, but the results could have been far worse.

The bypass sewer line wasn't set to be used for at least a few weeks. Fortunately, contractors excavating around the site were able to see the leaking sewer water an estimated 15,000 gallons. It took some quick action by the city to pump most of it back into the system.

Given human error, there is always the risk of mistakes being made. But the city has shown it has taken steps to mitigate future spills to avoid a recurrence of the costly and hazardous conditions that afflicted Hawai'i in March.