Honolulu Sewage Spill Threatens Beaches

March 30, 2006
In what the State Department of Health is calling the largest sewage spill in Hawaii's history, untreated waste water flowed from a broken sewer main into the Ala Wai Canal for five days, contaminating the beaches of Waikiki and causing signs to go up warning against going into the water.

While the spill is not impacting cruises, reports Cruise Critic contributor Jana Jones, who is currently sailing aboard NCL America's Pride of America, it is making some beaches in Honolulu off-limits. Folks who are arriving early for some pre-cruise beach time should be forewarned.

Ocean currents, which had until Wednesday been keeping the sewage away from the beaches, shifted and are now pushing the contamination toward Waikiki and Diamond Head.

The original spill occurred on Friday, March 24, sending millions of gallons of sewage through the Ala Wai Canal and into the Pacific. After repairs were completed Tuesday, another spill released up to 20 million more gallons into the canal. Warning signs had been up around the canal and Magic Island for days, but until the wind shifted, most of the beaches had experienced little, if any, contamination.

The repaired sewer line also needs time to harden and "cure," says a city spokesman, meaning that it cannot yet be used at full capacity. More rain in the region, which has been besieged for weeks, could cause further spills and overflow.

So far, 103 sewage contamination warning signs have been placed along the beaches in Honolulu, and city officials are translating them into Japanese as well. Surfers have been advised to stay out of the more popular Honolulu-area surf spots, and the Honolulu Harbor is being tested for contamination after another, smaller spill was reported there.

According to Department of Health officials, harmful bacteria found in the waters along the affected beaches were at levels 1,100 percent higher than acceptable or safe when originally tested, but have dropped significantly since the first phase of testing began.

Most vacationers have been heeding the warning signs, and the beaches remain empty. The city of Honolulu is hoping that the levels of harmful bacteria recede quickly and that the beaches will be usable in the near future.

We'll keep you posted.