State officials aim to change water quality testings

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Officials want to change it up when it comes to monitoring the water quality at beaches. Under federal law, the state is required to notify the public whenever bacteria levels exceed a specific threshold level. We learned that the method they’re using now is not suitable for Hawaii.

Under the recommendation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the state has been testing beaches for a bacteria called enterococci to indicate the presence of fecal waste. Since every beach in the state cannot be tested, they were divided into 3 tiers.

“We looked at several factors, one is the number of people there and looked at the types of facilities, restrooms, showers things like that. A big deciding factor was the presence of lifeguard staff,” said Clean Water Branch Monitoring and Analysis Section Supervisor Myron Honda.

Beaches under Tier 1 like at Magic Island and Hanauma Bay are monitored on a weekly basis. If there are high levels of it, then warning signs are posted on the beach and email notifications are sent out. But Honda says that bacteria is not a good indicator in Hawaii because it’s shown to grow in our tropical environment.

“It grows in soil, in streams, and things like that so moist soil with decaying organic matter. So it is present in the environment,” said Honda. “By us detecting enterococci in the water it’s not an indication that there is sewage in the water.”

Honda says they’ve teamed up with the University of Hawaii to do a study of another source they could test for and get the EPA’s approval.

“I’m hoping that we would be able to use would be the clostridium perfringens since we have a lot of data on that,” said Honda. “So what we want to do is correlate the presence of pathogens and the density with the presence of clostridium.”

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