There are high levels of a bacteria in the Mahaulepu Valley’s Waiopili Stream, but there’s no proof it’s coming from human sources.
That’s according to findings released Wednesday from part one of the Hawaii Department of Health’s sanitary survey of Waiopili Ditch, commonly known as Waiopili Stream, at Mahaulepu.
“The Department of Health has investigated the high bacteria level in Waiopili Stream to see if it is caused by sewage, and our survey found no human sources,” said Keith Kawaoka, DOH deputy director of environmental health in a news release. “The high bacteria appear to be from animal sources and soil, enhanced by the natural canopy of trees that prevent sunlight from killing bacteria in the ditch.”
The area is also the site of a proposed 575-acre dairy farm roughly two miles north of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa.
Amy Hennessey, director of communications for Hawaii Dairy Farms, the organization proposing the dairy, said the DOH survey will help with their voluntary environmental impact statement and the diary’s future plans.
“After months of dairy opponents accusing HDF of being the cause of high bacteria levels in Waiopili Ditch, it’s reaffirming to have these results released to the public,” Hennessey said. “The facts are plainly stated and backed up by solid scientific testing.”
HDOH said the study was prompted by the Surfrider Kauai Chapter’s concerns about the high bacteria levels in the stream and their request to post warning signs at the stream.
The 2015 findings from Surfrider Kauai’s Blue Water Task Force’s monthly samplings of the island’s surf breaks, streams and canals, released in early March, named Waiopili Stream as one of the most polluted areas on the island.
At the stream, the number of bacteria in the water exceeded state standards by thousands, and the Blue Water Task Force has been reporting those numbers consistently for several years.
But it’s not just at the Waiopili Stream where Surfrider is requesting signage for beaches and streams that have chronically tested positive for pollution.
“The Surfrider Foundation has embarked on a national campaign of increased awareness of the importance of public awareness of these conditions,” the chapter said in a news release sent to TGI on Wednesday.
When it comes to Kauai, Carl Berg, chairman of Kauai’s chapter of Surfrider and the coordinator for the Blue Water Task Force, said he doesn’t want people swimming in sewage-filled streams — human or otherwise.
“Surfrider would hope that the landowner would do means to fix the problem and bring it into compliance and that no additional pollutants be added until such time that stream is cleaned up,” Berg said.
He added that Enterococcus presence in water usually indicates myriad other creatures, potentially salmonella and leptospirosis.
Bridget Hammerquist, with Friends of Mahaulepu, said FOM wants the public to be safer than it is now when swimming at Mahaulepu.
“Clearly, this is not a site where we can afford to have additional waste added with the importation of cows and the operation of an industrial dairy,” she said.
The sanitary survey looked at the history of the area, the geology and hydrology, past and present land use, farming practices, feral and domestic animals, sewer systems, and cultural practices in Mahaulepu watershed.
After finishing the first part of the survey, Kawoaka said the department has decided to take a look at the large number of cesspools and injection wells in the Poipu-Koloa watershed as well.
“Based on what was discovered with part one of the survey, we have turned our attention to the more serious issue of human fecal contamination that may exist in the Poipu-Koloa watershed,” Kawaoka said.
According to Janice Okubo, DOH spokeswoman, the second part of the survey will be high-tech molecular testing of the water to better understand the Enterococcus levels present in the area.
“The EPA is supporting that with funding,” she said. “I’m told this is a long process which may take about a year or more to complete.”
Written for The Garden Island Newspaper on March 31, 2016. Photo by Jessica Else.