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City Miscalculates Amount of Sewage Spill at Ala Moana

Molly Solomon
Molly Solomon

Exactly how much sewage spilled onto streets near Ala Moana beach last month? A new report reveals a number that’s 200,000 gallons more than what the city last reported to the public. HPR’s Molly Solomon tells us why.

Honolulu officials first said more than half a million gallons of wastewater had spewed from manholes onto streets, after heavy rains overwhelmed the city’s sewage system. Two days later, the city revised its numbers, saying only about 129,000 gallons reached the ocean.

But a new report submitted to the state Department of Health tells a different story. It shows the actual number is more than three times the city’s estimate.

“This is rare. This doesn’t happen,” said Lori Kahikina, the city’s Department of Environmental Services director.  “We’re pretty clear about what the volume should be.”

She says the numbers were miscalculated because of a communication problem between engineers and pump truck operators. They had mistakenly subtracted about 200,000 gallons of sewage that was pumped out of the faulty pipe. However, since the wastewater never left the pipes, it shouldn’t have been deducted from the total spill. “We never should have subtracted the 200,000 gallons,” said Kahikina. “Because technically that didn’t spill out of the ground.”

The new information is raising concerns among environmentalists, including Marti Townsend, the executive director of Sierra Club Hawai‘i. “This whole process has been fraught with mistakes and misjudgments,” said Townsend. “It’s really undermining the public’s faith in the city’s handling of these kinds of really significant and dangerous situations.”

Townsend says she’s especially frustrated by the city’s decision not to publicly announce the miscalculation. “The city had an obligation to proactively correct the record when they realized what they had originally told the public was wrong,” said Townsend. “They really should have told us.”

Kahikina said the city has known about the revised spill number since they filed the report nearly two weeks ago on September 4th.  She stressed that the department wasn’t trying to hide anything, they just didn’t see this as newsworthy. “I just didn’t think it was significant because a spill is a spill is a spill. Whether it’s 5 gallons or 48 million gallons - it doesn’t matter, it’s the same protocol,” said Kahikina. “Everyone knows this is a black eye for the city administration. Now we need to get the public’s trust back and it’s going to take some time to do that.”

Regardless of the amount of sewage reported, Kahikina says the city still followed proper protocol for testing and cleanup.

You can read the full report here:

Report on Sewage Spill

Molly Solomon
Molly Solomon joined HPR in May 2012 as an intern for the morning talk show The Conversation. She has since worn a variety of hats around the station, doing everything from board operator to producer.
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