Heavy rain this week led to a deluge of household items flowing down waterways toward the ocean, and residents say the problem has gotten worse.

Water jugs. Garbage bags. A four-legged end table. A pair of black high-top Converse sneakers. 

When rain inundated Oahu on Sunday and Monday, household items floated down mountain streams towards the Ala Wai Canal and eventually the Pacific Ocean. 

In one Instagram video seen by thousands of people, a dark brown Makiki Ditch carried these items and many more past apartments overlooking the canal.

“When I first started living there it wasn’t as bad,” said Sheyna Lei Baysa, a Makiki resident who recorded the original video on Monday. That was about 10 years ago, when she moved in with her boyfriend Eric Acio. 

Makiki resident Sheyna Lei Baysa recorded a video of garbage floating down Makiki Stream on Monday after heavy rains. (Screenshot/Sheyna Lei Baysa/2024)

She posted the video on her Instagram story and sent it to the popular account Hawaii News Report, which reposted it soon afterwards for its over 260,000 followers, sparking discussion in the comments about who to blame for the mess.

Commenters tended to converge on the same group of people: the island’s homeless population. 

The increasing number of encampments has had an effect on the amount of debris in waterways, said Acio. But he added that the problem goes beyond just homeless people. 

“People put their rubbish over there,” he said, referring to an area of the canal near where he and Baysa live. 

Makiki Ditch makes its way to Makiki Stream before entering the Ala Wai Canal. Encampments and debris can be found along the stream, notably upstream toward Tantalus’s trailheads and near the corner of Kalakaua Avenue and South King Street, where the stream emerges from under the road.

The city’s Department of Facility Maintenance and the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees portions located upstream of Wilder Avenue, are tasked with keeping these areas clear.

About once per year, DLNR partners with the charter school “Halau Ku Mana, the Hawaii Nature Center, DLNR resident lessees and Forestry and Wildlife to clean up trash in the stream and now to remove invasive vegetation and replace it with native plants,” according to Division of Forestry and Wildlife Oahu Branch Manager Marigold Zoll in an emailed response late Thursday afternoon.

City spokesman Scott Humber said that the facility maintenance department has been focusing most recently on clearing the area near South King Street. 

He said in an email there is no regular schedule for clearing streams of debris and that it’s done based on need. The department’s Stored Property Ordinance branch holds onto personal property for 45 days in shipping containers under the H-1 freeway in case owners come forward to retrieve it. 

The newest iteration of the extensive Ala Wai flood plan includes an elevated walkway next to a wall standing six feet high along the canal. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2023)

Starting around 2:30 p.m. Monday, the water level of Makiki Ditch briefly spiked from three feet to more than five feet near South King Street.

To combat a worst-case flooding scenario, the city is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a $1 billion plan to protect areas around Makiki Stream, Palolo Stream and the Ala Wai Canal. Most of the cost would be covered by the federal government, with the city on the hook for about $375 million, though Mayor Rick Blangiardi has said that he’s working with Hawaii’s congressional delegation to whittle away at that number.

The plan would entail placing walls along the canal. Some residents who oppose the plan say that such a large project would not be needed if the city focused more on regular stream clearings.

Acio contends that even regular cleanings are not enough. Afterwards, he said, people and debris often return to the canal near where he lives in Makiki.

“They’re not policing it,” he said. 

Like Baysa, Acio thinks that the amount of debris carried by the stream when it rains has increased over the past decade or two. 

“It’s not getting better,” he said.

Civil Beat’s community health coverage is supported by the Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, the Cooke Foundation, Atherton Family Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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