News Feature | March 27, 2017

Investigation Of Waikiki Beach Sewage Spill Closes

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Not even pristine Hawaii is immune to the consequences of sewage spills.

“The City and County of Honolulu must pay a $100,000 fine and make fixes in its work procedures after a series of massive sewage spills that closed down Waikiki Beach in the fall of 2015,” KHON 2 reported.

In total, 592,000 gallons of sewage spilled. What followed was two years of negotiations between the city and the state about what happened. Long-awaited spill reports and enforcement actions were released last week.

The city cited “reduced pump capacity at the Ala Moana station” as the cause, along with storms, the report said. “The discharges impaired water quality for nearly six days,” it continued.

Heavy rains set off the problems.

“Sewage poured from manholes at the intersection of Ala Moana and Atkinson Boulevards as storm water overwhelmed the system,” Hawaii News Now reported at the time. Steve Casar of the Waikiki Yacht Club said the contaminated water nearly entered the club property, according to the report.

The spill report concedes that human error contributed to the problems.

"This was an emergency. There were mistakes done, but nothing was intentional," said Lori Kahikina, city Environmental Services director, per the Associated Press.

Here’s how mistakes factored in, per KHON 2:

The state found communication breakdowns, slow reaction times, and even deactivated overflow alarms at a Sand Island hub they call SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition). Lori Kahikina, director of the city Department of Environmental Services, says when the spill occurred, “so many alarms were going off at SCADA that somehow they missed the Ala Moana pump station. They never notified collection system maintenance and they deactivated the alarm.”

The city is considering ways to improve its protocols.

“The order aims to make sure multiple backups are in place for most of these kinds of scenarios. The city doesn’t know the cost yet, but has already started looking at better alarm software and remote capabilities, automatic notifications to pump station and maintenance staff, and mobile devices,” the report said.

City official Stuart Yamada added: “I think with the technological improvements to their SCADA system — their monitoring and tracking system — it should go a long way in notifying a whole bunch of people simultaneously, so there’s no depending on any one person to notify the next person.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Stormwater Management Solutions Center.