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A Solution to the Ala Wai Pollution Problem?

Flickr / Daniel Ramirez
Flickr / Daniel Ramirez

A campaign is raising funds for a solution to the Ala Wai’s pollution problem.  HPR’s Molly Solomon reports on how an innovative approach could be coming to Hawai‘i.

At the entrance to Waik?k?, David Kuwada stands on the dock of the Ala Wai Harbor. Kuwada grew up in town near Kaimuk? and is familiar with these waters.

“We grew up around the Ala Wai,” said Kuwada who surfs here most days. “I’ve been surfing Ala Moana Bowls all my life for 35 years. So this is really my front yard.”

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii
Credit Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii
A screenshot from a video of a Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii cleanup at the Ala Wai Canal.

He says it’s not unusual to spot trash as he paddles out to the break, especially after a rainstorm, when trash on the streets is swept into storm drains and ends up here.

“I always see a trash bag, plastic bottles, shopping carts floating by—it’s never-ending,” Kuwada said. “There’s just so much stuff. I’ve seen anything and everything out there.”

“This is the dirtiest spot on O‘ahu when it comes to land-based debris,” said Kahi Pacarro, the executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i. He’s hoping the solution may lie in something called a water wheel trash collector. The floating device is powered by nothing more than the water current and solar panels.

“And what it can do is grab all the trash it collects in the [floating] boom,” he explained. “It’s picked up by the conveyor belt that’s powered by the wheel. And trash moves up, dumps into a dumpster and the dumpster is taken out and moved onto the boat ramp and a new one is brought in.”

Waterfront Partnership
Credit Waterfront Partnership
The Inner Harbor Water Wheel, also called Mr. Water Wheel, in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. It's collected more than 440 tons of garbage and debris since it was installed in May 2014.

The water wheel has proven successful in cities like Baltimore, where it’s removed more than 440 tons of garbage from the city’s Inner Harbor over the past two years.  Pacarro believes it could have a similar impact here in Hawai‘i.

Molly Solomon
Credit Molly Solomon
Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii executive director Kahi Pacarro says if the water wheel trash collector plan is approved, it would be installed in this area near the Ala Wai Harbor.

“We want to change the narrative of the Ala Wai being this nasty animal, to this thing where the community came together to take it back,” said Pacarro. “We want to create a sustainable, recreational area for all of us to enjoy.”

Funds are currently being raising for a feasibility study. If the state approves the plan, Pacarro and his partners, 808 Cleanups and the Surfrider Foundation, would seek grants in aid to pay for the project, which is estimated to cost about $700,000. Initial consultations with the Honolulu City Council have resulted in $350,000 set aside for the project in the 2016-2017 budget.

Learn more about the project in this video by Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i:

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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