Warning signs are now standing guard at the Waiopili Stream near Gillin’s Beach, alerting beachgoers of contaminated water in the area.
The signs notify the public to “use caution before recreating on or in the water, due to high bacteria levels,” according to Hawaii’s Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems or open wounds are the most likely populations to develop infections or illnesses after contact with polluted waters.
The Thursday release said DOH is not closing the area for recreational use, but is advising people to take precautionary measures.
DOH is also posting warning signs at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu.
Carl Berg, head of Surfrider Kauai’s Blue Water Task Force which has been involved in the Waiopili water samplings, said Surfrider is pleased to hear about the new signage.
The posting of the warning signs was based on DOH test results for enterococcus bacteria, which is an indicator of the potential presence of pathogens, which are harmful to humans.
The Blue Water Task Force tests the water in the Waiopili Stream monthly and has consistently reported levels at hundreds of times above the nationally accepted limit.
Berg said Surfrider has been working to get signage posted in the area for more than a year.
“It’s very exciting news that the Department of Health has come around to meeting their legal responsibility to protect the public’s heath,” Berg said. “Surfrider hopes that the Department of Health will post the appropriate warning signs on all of the other chronically polluted waters on Kauai and in the state.”
He said members of Surfrider and the Blue Water Task Force are “working with EPA and the Department of Health to that end.”
Bridget Hammerquist, president of Friends of Maha’ulepu, another organization involved in the original testing that showed the high presence of the bacteria at the mouth of Maha’ulepu’s Waiopili Stream, said she’s happy to hear about the signs.
The organization posted signs in May warning beachgoers the water quality in the stream and surrounding areas wasn’t up to federal standards.
The signs were removed shortly afterward.
“I’m very relieved that people will now be warned and informed about the contaminated water,” Hammerquist said. “Hopefully, we’ll see less ear infections and eye infections, especially in the little ones.”
In their press release, DOH and EPA stated the intention to work together to improve the monitoring of Hawaii’s recreational waters, “including specific standard protocols for public notification and posting of recreational waters with warning signs when bacteria levels exceed standards established to protect public health.”
Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, published August 5. 2016. Photo taken for The Garden Island Newspaper.