Sewage spill forces Waikiki beach closures

Water darkened by raw sewage pours out of the Ala Wai Canal and harbor area in Honolulu on Wednesday.
Water darkened by raw sewage pours out of the Ala Wai Canal and harbor area in Honolulu on Wednesday. Carol Cunningham / AP

Warning signs to keep out of the water were posted Wednesday along part of Waikiki’s world-famous beaches because of high bacteria levels from a massive sewage spill.

Ocean currents shifted toward Oahu’s south shore beaches, carrying millions of gallons of raw sewage that was diverted into a canal from a broken pipe and into the ocean.

“What we feared has happened. The bacteria has kind of spread through areas of Waikiki,” state Health Department spokesman Kurt Tsue said.

Environmentalists and residents fear long-term damage to the fragile coral reef and other marine life in the area.

“This is absolutely disgusting that here at the doorstep of our economic engine we have untreated sewage on the beaches. This should have never happened,” said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club, which filed a lawsuit in 2004 alleging deficiencies in the city’s wastewater system.

The normally packed beaches remained open but were mostly empty. Rainy weather kept many tourists away, and those on the beach were greeted by signs that warned against swimming or fishing, saying, “Sewage contaminated water. Exposure to water may cause illness.”

From Diamond Head to downtown
The city was monitoring the water in a several-mile stretch from Diamond Head to near downtown Honolulu. Bacteria levels near the beaches were not at threatening levels, but enough to put out a warning, Tsue said.

The city was trying to determine how much untreated sewage has been diverted into the Ala Wai Canal, which empties into the ocean between two of Hawaii’s most famous beach areas — Waikiki and Ala Moana.

It could exceed 50 million gallons, considering an average 15 million gallons of wastewater a day flows out of Waikiki.

The city has been using pumps around the clock since the sewer line broke early Friday. Repairs on the 42-inch sewer main were completed Wednesday and the diversion into the canal was finally stopped.

The pipe, installed in 1964, cracked after heavy rain flooded the aging sewer system.