Surfrider Foundation believes that all people should have access to water quality data. Our BWTF program empowers the local community to make informed decisions about where it is – or is not safe to swim.

OʻAHU, HAWAII – Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) program released its annual water quality report for 2021. In 2021, trained BWTF volunteer scientists sampled 23 sites bi-weekly. Samples were tested for the presence of Enterococcus, a fecal bacteria that indicates the presence of human or animal waste in the water. Elevated levels of Enterococcus increase the likelihood that other pathogens that can make people sick may be present. Water is considered unsafe if levels exceed 130 Enterococcus forming units/100mL. Sample collection and pollution level standards set by Hawaiʻi Department of Health (HDOH).

What did they find?

Of the 20 sites regularly tested in 2021, six sites (Magic Island Canoe Launch, Kahaluʻu, Hakipuʻu, Waiāhole, Kuliʻouʻou Stream, and Chocolates) had at least 50% of their samples exceed 130 Enterococcus forming units/100mL. Kahalu’u, Hakipuʻu Boat Ramp, and Waiāhole on the East side had at least 77% of their samples exceed state health standards. Chocolates (at Haleʻiwa Beach Park near Surf N Sea) had 95% of its samples exceed health standards.

BWTF volunteers are collecting water samples around the island every other Sunday. Pictured here is the Masterson ʻohana at Hakipuʻu boat ramp.
BWTF Co-Coordinator Arleen Velasco is testing water samples for fecal indicator bacteria at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory.
Photo Credit: Erik Kabik Photography/ erikkabik.com

Why are our coasts so polluted?

The BWTF chooses sites that are likely subject to higher levels of pollution to track pathogen levels and inform the local community. For example, Kahaluʻu, Hakipuʻu, and Waiāhole are all characterized by high concentrations of coastal cesspools, meaning that there is known wastewater contamination. The chronic pollution documented at these sites by the BWTF indicates the potential impact of sewage pollution in these areas.

“Our data indicates that coastal cesspools are likely contributing to high bacteria readings in certain areas of the island,” said Dr. Dan Amato, Coordinator of the Oʻahu Blue Water Task Force. “In addition, large storms can contribute to elevated bacteria levels in coastal areas as flowing streams wash everything from upstream – pollutants, bacteria, nutrients, pesticides – into the ocean.”

The BWTF sites with chronically high bacteria readings are additionally located at the mouth of streams or rivers. Chronic pollution at these sites may also be attributed to land-based runoff from upland areas that flows into the ocean. Families, ocean users, and the public should be aware of the poor water quality conditions in these freshwater flows and seek to avoid them. The public should be particularly aware after heavy rain events that lead to increased runoff and can prompt Brown Water Advisories. Even if you do not see a public notice posted, avoid brown water until conditions clear.

“We strongly recommend that the public stay out of the water if it is brown. The brown water indicates runoff from upslope areas and we often find elevated bacteria levels,” said Dr. Amato.

BWTF Coordinator Dr. Dan Amato in the field.
Photo Credit: Erik Kabik Photography/ erikkabik.com

Stop Sewage Pollution

As part of its recently launched STOP Sewage Pollution program, Surfrider Foundation encourages homeowners to  improve water quality by following these 8 simple steps:

  1. Convert your cesspool
  2. Share your knowledge about the impacts of cesspools on water quality
  3. Inspect and pump your septic tanks and cesspools regularly.
  4. Don’t use septic additives.
  5. Only flush the three P’s (pee, poop and toilet paper)
  6. Don’t pour cooking grease or oils down the drain.
  7. Conserve water inside your home.
  8. Soak up the rain and reduce runoff by directing roof downspouts into a rain barrel or vegetated area.

Community members are encouraged to check water quality results posted online before they head to the beach at bwtf.surfrider.org/explore/44. Current and historic data are available.