Monday, January 17, 2011


Just say no to medical waste and storm runoff in Honolulu

by Larry Geller

Honolulu’s storm dranage standards were adopted in October, 1999. It’s about time they were revised. Honolulu can’t seem to take everyone’s storm water and invisibly dump it into the ocean. We had better stop doing that and join the Green Infrastructure revolution.

Just read the newspaper:

Waves, smaller than forecast for yesterday, broke brown and dirty.

[Star-Advertiser, Runoff mixes surf and turf, Star-Advertiser 1/17/2011]

Medical waste continued to turn up at the mouth of a storm drain at the edge of Ko Olina Resort yesterday, a day after Waste Management Hawaii finished its cleanup of debris that washed down from the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill last week.

Carroll Cox, a citizen environmental watchdog, said he collected about 35 syringes yesterday from that area, some with needles and some with vials of red liquid that appeared to be blood. He said he also collected about seven vials filled with red and yellow liquid that appeared to be blood or urine.

[Star-Advertiser, More medical waste at ocean's edge, 1/16/2011]

Honolulu’s beaches, its pride and joy and the essential resources supporting our tourism industry, should and can be better protected.

What must tourists think, reading about vials of blood and urine washing up on the beach? Heck, what do residents think? Do any of us want to be poked by needles while enjoying our favorite forms of recreation?

How did a landfill dump get a permit to discharge water into the municipal system anyway? And when are we going to start controlling our storm water and stop carrying everyone’s crap into the ocean?

Walking through the parking lot at Kapiolani Community College on Saturday I was again noticing all the storm drains, each carefully marked not to throw stuff in them because it goes to the ocean. Around many were the usual small piles of rubbish that would, of course, shortly end up in the ocean.

None of those storm drains need to be there. KCC can take care of its own runoff.

Certainly, new developments can be required to handle their own discharge as part of zoning requirements.

But we can go farther. It’s not rocket science. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlights design approaches on a website, Managing Wet Weather with Green Infrastructure.

From that page:

Green infrastructure reduces stormwater runoff volumes and reduces peak flows by utilizing the natural retention and absorption capabilities of vegetation and soils. By increasing the amount of pervious ground cover, green infrastructure techniques increase stormwater infiltration rates, thereby reducing the volume of runoff entering our combined or separate sewer systems, and ultimately our lakes, rivers, and streams.

Stormwater Pollutant Reductions - Green Infrastructure techniques infiltrate runoff close to its source and help prevent pollutants from being transported to nearby surface waters. Once runoff is infiltrated into soils, plants and microbes can naturally filter and break down many common pollutants found in stormwater.

Reduced Sewer Overflow Events - Utilizing the natural retention and infiltration capabilities of plants and soils, green infrastructure limits the frequency of sewer overflow events by reducing runoff volumes and by delaying stormwater discharges.

Many cities have implemented not only the pervious pavements (roads, parking lots and driveways where water goes right through and into the ground) that I’ve written about here, but swales and bioswales to collect and drain off water, green roofs, stormwater plantings and other technologies. Some cities are encouraging downspout disconnection (have you ever thought about how much residents of Manoa pay for city water when more than enough can be collected from their roofs for free?). (See: That rain must be good for something, 11/7/2007)

Reducing stormwater runoff may be accomplished in several ways. Chicago has chosen to lead by example, repaving alleyways with permeable surfaces. Chicago has about 1,900 miles of paved alleyways, so this makes a difference. Other municipalities or state or local governments have imposed limits on storm water collection by statute.

Philadelphia requires limited imperviousness by way of local code. Property owners in the Wissahickon Watershed are required to meet impervious ground cover percentage maximums based on location. Since impervious cover includes buildings and pavement, the requirement acts as an incentive to reduce impervious cover through whatever means work best for the site. For example, a property owner may install permeable pavement if new paved surfaces are desired, or retrofit impermeable paved surfaces with permeable pavement in order to increase building size. The code allows for additional impervious coverage if stormwater is managed such that the infiltration capacity of the site is not diminished and runoff leaving the property does not have negative impacts off site. Because Philadelphia’s impervious coverage regulation does not specify the manner of compliance, it leaves room for flexibility and creative solutions while achieving the desired environmental performance.

[EPA, Managing Wet Weather with Green Infrastructure, 12/2008]

The city’s stormwater management plan centers around pollution control. While important, that’s not enough. We need to reduce the amount of water that the city carries into the streams and into the ocean.

See also earlier articles on porous pavements as used on the Mainland.



if medical waste had washed up in Waikiki, there would be a military style operation combing the coastal reefs and near shore waters for every piece. reminds me of watching CNN after the xerox shooting and your mayor stressing that it happened very far away from Waikiki.

Thanks for that reminder.

Yup, there would be quick action to clean the beach, but would there be any followup to prevent medical waste from getting into the water in the first place? This has happened before.

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