Hawaii ranks fourth among 30 states for water quality at its beaches — up from seventh in 2011 but down from third in 2010, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Just 4 percent of the 3,516 beach water samples taken at 149 sites statewide in 2012 exceeded Environmental Protection Agency public health standards of one in 28 people becoming ill of a gastrointestinal illness or the state’s maximum bacterial standard of 104 bacterial colonies per 100 milliliters water. That’s according to the council’s 2013 Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches report released Wednesday.
Hawaii County, according to the report, had 2 percent of water samples exceed the state limit in 2012, behind Kauai’s 7 percent and Oahu’s 3 percent. Two percent of samples from Maui exceeded the limit.
The statewide 4 percent rate puts the Aloha State behind Delaware, which saw less than 1 percent of samples exceed national standards, New Hampshire, 1 percent, and North Carolina, which had just 2 percent of samples exceed standards, according to the report.
However, Hawaii remains ahead of other beach havens like Florida, where 5 percent of samples exceeded standards, and California, which saw 8 percent of samples in exceed standards, according to the report.
Nationally, approximately 7 percent of the 2012 beach water samples exceeded national standards, according to the council. That’s down slightly from 2011, when eight percent exceeded the standards.
The Natural Resources Defense Council annual report card on America’s beaches, now in its 23rd year, collects and analyzes the latest beach water testing data results from the EPA and state beach coordinators at more than 3,000 beach sites nationwide.
“There was a time when the worst thing we expected from a day at the beach was a nasty sunburn,” said Steve Fleischli, director of water for the NRDC. “But, now we know a much greater danger lurks in the water and there is no ominous theme song to warn swimmers of this risk like you might see in the movies.
“This danger is silent and invisible. After a day playing in the water, the family may get dysentery, hepatitis, stomach flu, infections or rashes and grandma and the little kids are the most likely to fall prey to the bacteria because of their weaker immune systems.”
The report examines the causes of water pollution and provides recommendations on reducing pollutants, which are primarily storm runoff and sewage, from reaching beaches, rivers and lakes.
Among the recommendations this year were having the EPA reform and enforce national requirements that govern sources of polluted storm water to ensure runoff is controlled using innovative green infrastructure solutions and having the EPA reconsider its new recreational beach water quality criteria, which went into effect in November.
“You might think it’s only rain water with leaves flowing on its way to a wastewater treatment plant, but the reality is much different,” said Fleischli, noting 28 percent of closures and advisories issued at beaches in the U.S. are the result of storm water runoff. “That water often includes trash, chemicals, oil, animal and human waste, as well as bacteria and viruses — it is all of our urban slobber flowing untreated into local waterways.”
Polluted water resulted in more than 20,000 closing and advisory days across the United States in 2012, according to the report. That’s down 14 percent, or 3,267 days from 2011. The decrease was attributed to ongoing drought in the continental U.S. and Hawaii.
In Hawaii, the over-the-limit water samples led to 736 closing and advisories issued for beaches around the state of which 720 were the result of storm water runoff and 16 the result of a sewage leak or spill. That’s down from 4,696 in 2011, 4,215 in 2010 and 2,352 in 2009. None of the advisories or closures occurred on Hawaii Island, according to the report.
The reduction in advisories and closures in Hawaii was also attributed to a multiyear drought. That’s in addition to ongoing El Nino conditions resulting in less rainfall in Hawaii, according to the report. Storm water runoff accounted for approximately 98 percent of the closures and advisories.
Of the 48 sites where samples were actually taken on Hawaii Island in 2012, 29 sites had no samples exceed state standards. Two sites, however, provided samples that exceeded state standards at least 20 percent of the time: East Hawaii’s Hakalau Bay (20 percent) and South Kohala’s Waiulaula Bay (42 percent).
Other notable results: Anaehoomalu (1 percent of samples exceeding state standards); Analani Pond (5 percent); Hilo Bayfront (2 percent); Hookena (7 percent); Honaunau Bay (7 percent); Honolii (11 percent); Kahaluu Beach Park (3 percent); Kailua Bay (1 percent); Kapoho Bay (3 percent); and Milolii (7 percent), according to the report.
“People come to these beaches because they are rated as some of the top in the world,” said Jahmilah Alazam, who lives in Honolulu but was visiting Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area on Wednesday. “I think to go to a beach and have it be dirty or filthy would take away from the quality of any experience,” she said. “It’s important to have beautiful waters and to keep the pollution out of them.”
The report also includes an updated, mobile friendly, ZIP code-searchable map of the beaches, making it easy for beachgoers to check water quality, monitoring, closings and advisories. It can be viewed by visiting nrdc.org/beaches.
To view the report in its entirety, visit nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/default.asp.