World-famous Waikiki Beach and surrounding areas of Honolulu’s coastline remained closed Aug. 26 after heavy rainstorms caused 500,000 gallons of sewage to spill out from manholes and into storm sewers leading to the ocean.
“All I can do is apologize to the public,” Lori Kahikina, director of environmental services for Honolulu, said at a news conference. “This is unheard of. It’s unprecedented.”
Rainstorms, combined with worn-out sewer systems, are common culprits when it comes to sewage backing up into homes — one of the reasons home sewer connections need to be replaced every 40 years or so. But the city supposedly has systems in place to prevent overflow.
Tourists were warned to stay away from the water, since it could be contaminated with pathogens and therefore constitute a serious risk of illness or infection — though not all complied.
Local news station KHON reported Aug. 25 that a communication breakdown may have contributed to the spill; apparently, one of the pumping stations located at Ala Moana, a short stretch down the coast from Waikiki, was offline at the time of the spill.
City Councilman Trevor Ozawa, who represents the district, told the station that he hadn’t coordinated with the Department of Design and Construction to ensure the pump was in working order. “We were all aware that the rain was coming … but we didn’t look at some of the glaring obvious things that we could have done,” Ozawa admitted.
The closures — unfortunately timed in the middle of the busiest season for the island — have had a serious impact on Waikiki businesses, many of which rely on tourists wanting to try ocean-based activities (though it’s possible businesses in other areas of the island may benefit from the displaced tourists).
Dave Carvalho, owner of Big Wave Dave surfing school, told local TV broadcast Hawaii News Now that they’ve been informing tourists of the situation but allowing them to make their own choices as to the risk.
The brown-water warning did, however, delay prominent events scheduled as part of Duke’s OceanFest, an ocean sports festival timed around the birthday of surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku.
Aug. 24 marked the 125th anniversary of his birth, and the festival was slated to involve more than 2,500 athletes and thousands more spectators. The city has promised to lift warnings as soon as water testing has been completed.