The ​Surfrider Foundation has released its annual Clean Water Report, putting 10 priority beaches from across the U.S. in the spotlight — three of which are from Hawaii.

Of the 8,532 water test results reported in 2021, 36% of the samples collected from Maliko Bay on Maui, 95% from Chocolates Surf Break on Oahu, and 100% from Nawiliwili on Kauai, failed to meet the state health standard for recreational waters.

Caution Signs at Kahaluu Warning of Cesspool Pollution
Signs at Kahaluu warn of wastewater bacteria in the water. Courtesy: Surfrider Foundation

“The ocean is such an important part of our daily life in Hawaii that we just assume coastal waters are safe and clean,” said Lauren Blickley, Hawaii regional manager for Surfrider Foundation, in a news release Wednesday.

Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force — a water quality monitoring program on Kauai, Oahu and Maui — is testing over 60 beaches and sampling sites collectively from all three islands.

The Department of Health also has a water quality monitoring program. However, with over 400 public beaches and 300 miles of combined coastline, the state mainly monitors beaches that are heavily populated tourist attractions. Surfrider typically tests beaches that are not covered by state and local agencies, and monitors potential pollution sources, such as stormwater outlets, rivers and creeks that discharge onto the beach.

According to data provided by Surfrider, it also appears that many locations have “elevated levels of fecal indicator bacteria” after rain events and during brown water events.

With around 88,000 cesspools, Hawaii has one of the highest cesspools per capita in the country. According to the Department of Health, Hawaii cesspools release roughly 53 million gallons of untreated sewage each day across the state.

“Converting your cesspool is the No. 1 way that homeowners can help improve coastal water quality across the islands — but it can be very expensive,” said Blickley. “We are thankful that state lawmakers recently passed three bills that support cesspool conversions — particularly HB2195.”

In May, state lawmakers passed House Bill 2195, a pilot program which provides grants up to $20,000 to qualifying low and moderate income homeowners to assist in “upgrading, converting, or connecting a cesspool” that meets certain criteria. The Legislature also passed House Bill 2088 pertaining to commercial property owners, and House Bill 1806 which expands the definition of a qualifying upgraded system, providing more options to homeowners.

“Everyone should have access to clean water to surf, swim and play in,” said Blickley. “For years, our data has shown that there is a serious problem with coastal water pollution in Hawaii. Now, we need our politicians to take action and our state agencies to do their job to ensure that we’re stopping the sources of pollution.”

Read the full 2021 Clean Water Report here.

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