HONOLULU (CN) – With a stormy weather and sewage-pumping stations that are not fully operational, wastewater flowed from manholes to cause floods and beach closures – including Waikiki.
The heavy rains that started early Monday triggered the spill of an estimated 500,000 gallons of sewage, prompting city officials to close Waikiki beaches for two days. Only Ala Wai and Kewalo Basin harbors remained closed to the public Thursday.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said being able to reopen Waikiki beaches was a priority.
“We recognize – both at the state and county level – in terms of our economy there’s nothing more important than Waikiki. We wanted to make sure that this event was over and it’s over in basically two days and a little bit more,” Caldwell said in a statement.
With a network of 2,100 miles of pipes, Honolulu’s sewer system is not supposed be inundated by storm water.
City officials said one of two sewage-pumping stations serving the Waikiki area was not working due to a construction project. The construction left the city’s sewage system unable to handle the increased water, and leaves and other debris also blocked storm drains.
The contractor on the project has since brought the second pumping station online. The stormy weather is expected to drag on until next week.
While sewage was coming out of manholes on a street fronting Aloa Moana Center, visitors waded into the water – paying little heed to warning signs about unsafe water.
According to George Szigeti, tourism authority president and CEO, hotels saw “very little” cancellations.
“This is going to be business as usual,” Szigeti said.
The city and all of the Hawaiian Islands are under brown-water advisory since Monday, but fully closed beaches with posted signs and lifeguard warnings were limited to those affected by the sewage spill.
On the leeward side of the county, the Department of Health estimated that 187,000 gallons of sewage inundated the Wahiawa Reservoir on Tuesday, while 125,000 gallons entered Nuupia Pond in Kailua on the windward side.
A massive spill also took place east of Honolulu in the Hawaii Kai area, where an estimated 1 million gallons of wastewater that had been treated but not disinfected prompted the closure of Sandy Beach – a favorite spot for surfers.
The Puu Poa Marsh in Kauai and Pepeeko Point in Hawaii also experienced minimal sewage spills.
The Department of Health put up warning signs in the affected areas, advising the public to remain out of the waters until further notice.
Amid the sewage spills and beach closures, the Hawaii Tourism Authority released figures for July on Thursday showing a record-breaking 816,000 visitors arrived in Hawaii by air or cruise ship that month.
Those visitors spent $1.42 billion, which should bolster Honolulu’s improvement plans.
In May, the Honolulu City Council approved a bill to create a special improvement district in Waikiki extending from Ala Wai Canal to Kapahulu Groin, and will require commercial property owners in that area to subsidize authorized projects.
The ordinance appropriates $605,000 for the Waikiki Beach Special Improvement District’s first year.
“We’re going to be spending it in a wise way to make sure that, as we face global warming challenges and sea level rises, our beaches remain vibrant beautiful places for everyone,” Caldwell said.
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