Monday, January 25, 2010

Astoria BWTF Seeking Answers

Surfrider and the students at Astoria High in Oregon are not keeping their data to themselves, but continue to press local authorities to investigate polluted water coming out of the Ecola Court Outfall at Cannon Beach. Perhaps the below story that ran in their local paper will help generate the political will to find a solution to this water quality problem.

Update! - within 24 hours of this article running in the local paper, Surfrider has received a call from the mayor, city manager, and two council members. This issue is back on the city council agenda now! Great job getting the word out there and pushing your politicians to do their job!

Bacteria remains at Ecola outflow
Surfrider Foundation says counts are high enough in storm water to trigger a state health advisory

The Daily Astorian

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

CANNON BEACH - Bacteria levels at the Ecola Court Outfall in Cannon Beach have remained high in tests conducted during the past three months.

Two state water quality tests in November, as well as tests in December and January performed for the Surfrider Foundation, indicated the bacteria count in the storm water outfall was high enough to trigger a state health advisory.

The state Human Services Division issues a health advisory when water samples contain more than 158 organisms per 100 milliliters. Tests performed by the Oregon Beach Monitoring Program for the state on Nov. 16 showed there were 1,935 organisms in the stream that leads from the Ecola outfall pipe into the ocean.

Another state test Nov. 19 indicated there were 197 organisms.

On Dec. 20, tests performed by Astoria High School students for a lab monitored by the Surfrider Foundation showed the count at 171, and a test Jan. 4 indicated 432 organisms.

Although high counts of organisms can be blamed on runoff of street pollutants accumulated during the dry season, the readings continued to be high even after heavy rains had already washed the streets, said Charlie Plybon, Oregon field coordinator for Surfrider Foundation.

Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit organization that monitors Oregon's water quality along the coast.

Between March and September last year, when Cannon Beach sees the most visitors, 10 out of 20 water quality tests failed to meet state standards. Between Oct. 12 and Nov. 2, bacteria counts met state limits, ranging between 10 and 108 organisms per 100 milliliters.

Although the tests are for storm water and not drinking water, they concern members of the Surfrider Foundation because the outfall is a popular play area for children during the summer.

In addition, those accessing the beach from Gower Street in Midtown must cross the stream if they want to walk to Haystack Rock.

Surfrider has asked the city to share data it has collected and to establish a committee specifically to look at the problem. The City Council has asked the city's public works committee to work on it, said Mark See, public works director. The committee is beginning to educate itself about the problem, he said.

Meanwhile, Plybon said, "We're getting a little frustrated with the city."

The city hasn't shared the DNA results collected from samples of animals and birds found in the area and from DNA found in the outfall storm water over a year ago.

The organization is also concerned that the only information given to the public about the periodic contamination is a sign over the tide gate that says the water is untreated. Plybon said he would like to see a sign that gives clearer warnings.

"Some people feel we should take a harder line with the city," Plybon said. "But we need a common strategy. I think the will of the city to do something is there. I don't know if the resources are there.

"We need the city to tell us what they need, and we can provide the experts," he added. If Surfrider doesn't see improved bacteria counts, the organization probably wouldn't seek legal action against the city, Plybon said. But it could ask the state to require Cannon Beach to have a storm water discharge permit. Because the city has a population of less than 4,000, it isn't legally required to apply for a state permit, but Plybon believes a case could be made for the permit if a health threat exists.

A permit would require the city to reduce the contaminants or face a fine every time they exceed the limit, Plybon said.

"I would rather use collaboration to get there, but that's the stick we could use."

But, See said, "dozens of factors" affect the outflow, which begins as an underground stream in the hills behind Cannon Beach and runs through Midtown before it flows out of the pipe behind a parking lot and onto the beach.

The city already conducts education programs that teach property owners how to discard animal and other wastes from their yards. Plastic bags also are provided at stations along the beach for dog waste.

"There never have been any definitive answers," about how pollutants are entering the outflow stream, See said. "Every fresh water source has this potential."

Tests only describe what was in the water "yesterday," but no one knows what is in the water "today," he added.

"We need technology to provide 'real-time' data, and that could happen not far into the future. They're working on something," See said.

It wouldn't be practical to eliminate the outflow because it prevents sand from building up and blocking the beach access and overflowing the parking lots of surrounding restaurants and hotels. "We could spend tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing it," See said. "Because it's a complicated formula, there's not a simple answer."

Because the city doesn't have a combined storm and sewer system, there is little chance that storm drains would have been inadvertently connected to the sewer drains, See said. However, he admitted, that has happened a few times.

"We watch for that all the time; we have an extensive mapping system" showing the drainage systems.

Eventually, though, if the bacteria counts remain high, the city may have to do some "smoke" testing that will determine if local buildings are correctly connected to the sewer system.

"To satisfy some people, we may have to spend some money and do something," See said.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting to the Source in Kaua'i

By Coco Zickos - The Garden Island
Published: Monday, January 18, 2010 3:09 AM HST
• Editor’s note: This is the seventh article in an ongoing series which examines Kaua‘i water quality.

LIHU‘E — Chronically elevated levels of bacteria in water found in various locations around the island merit “frequent sampling and wastewater assessment,” Surfrider Foundation’s Dr. Carl Berg said.

During 2009, Surfrider volunteers collected water from 20 different stations across Kaua‘i and processed a total of 166 samples testing for bacterial counts.

“Most areas sampled were clean,” Berg said.

However, 10 stations exceeded what are deemed to be the state’s safe levels of enterococcus — a bacteria commonly found in the feces of humans and animals — at least once, Berg said.

Nawiliwili Stream, which feeds into Kalapaki Bay and as such is commonly known as Kalapaki Stream, tested high for each of the 12 samples taken throughout the year. Pakalas, on the Westside, exceeded safe levels for four of the 12 samplings. Waters off of Lydgate Park, on the Eastside, tested high four out of 10 times.

The averages for these sites suggest that Pakalas and Kalapaki Stream “are chronically polluted with human and/or animal wastes and deserve more frequent sampling and a wastewater assessment,” Berg said. “Waters off Lydgate are of concern because the Wailua waste water treatment plant discharges into the ocean in that area and the Wailua river flows to that area at times.”

Rainfall largely accounts for when “exceedances” most frequently occur. But linking the source to sites with continuously high counts of bacteria will require additional testing which goes beyond Surfrider’s “preliminary sampling,” Berg said.

“The next step is to have the Department of Health confirm and investigate possible sources,” he said Sunday.

The DOH currently samples some sites around the island twice a week, but only focuses on places that have “a lot of people with high recreational use,” DOH spokesperson Janice Okubo said.

When asked if the DOH attempts to discover the source of bacteria when it is found, Okubo said, “We try to.”

“Bacteria can be caused by many things, some natural,” she added.

Watson Okubo, monitoring and analysis section chief of the Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch, agreed.

“Inherently all streams in Hawai‘i have high bacterial counts. That’s the nature of streams,” he said when asked why samples collected by the DOH at Kalapaki are regularly taken in the middle of the bay rather than at the mouth of the stream.

“Taking samples at streams puts you in a position where you don’t know what you’re looking at,” he said last week. “We don’t take samples at the stream mouth, but away where people recreate.”

Sam Noble, owner of Lox Hawai‘i, has designed some 150 septic systems on Kaua‘i and said cesspools are still a “big part of Hawai‘i, especially this island.”

“Cesspools, which are also called ‘drywells,’ are underground holes used throughout Hawai‘i for the disposal of human waste,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site. “Raw, untreated sewage is discharged directly into the ground, where it can contaminate oceans, streams and ground water by releasing disease-causing pathogens and nitrates.”

All large-capacity cesspools (those which serve more than 20 individuals) had to be “closed and replaced with an alternative wastewater system by April 5, 2005,” according to EPA regulations.

“Cesspools are more widely used in Hawai‘i than in any other state in the country,” the Web site says.

Noble said it is difficult to see what is going into the ground water except on “days it’s flooding.”

“There’s no doubt” cesspools are contributing to chronic levels of bacteria in the water, especially when it rains, he said.

Noble has been attempting to assist individuals in upgrading their systems, as it is important to “get people to realize they have to upgrade” and “it’s a possibility residents” might soon be required to.

Though it may not seem like a financially feasible time to upgrade, it is actually an ideal time to install because “contractors don’t have as much work.”

“Guys are hungry,” so fees will likely be lower than usual, Noble said.

“It’s good for people to do this, but it’s an economic hardship,” he said.

Moving forward in 2010, Watson Okubo said the DOH will be issuing requests for proposals this year to address pollution run-off issues.

The EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 319 will likely provide funding for some “state and local nonpoint source efforts,” such as the Nawiliwili Watershed based plan, he said.

And though the Kaua‘i District DOH recently lost 10 employees, the Clean Water Branch has not yet been affected.

“We can’t allow budget cutbacks to stop the critical health and safety work that needs to be done,” county Department of Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo said. “We’ll continue working closely with the DOH as we have done in the past to take action on any findings in our beach parks.”

• Coco Zickos, business and environmental writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or