Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Hawaii taxpayers pay to remove private storm water runoff

by Larry Geller

I have a curious habit of looking for the little corrections box in my daily paper. See if you can find one in today’s edition. It’s small and pretty well hidden away (of course, it would be larger if they actually listed all their errors).

Today’s corrections start with

Haseko was forced to alter plans for a storm-water drainage system for the Papipi Road community, not Ocean Pointe as was reported in a Page D1 article Sunday.

This is an old issue that speaks directly to my earlier articles on the subject of rainwater and stormwater runoff. We taxpayers generally pay the bills to carry away water from private properties. And we don’t mind if the crud is dumped in the ocean.

If there’s more water than existing systems can hold, we pay to put in new pipes.

Worse, all that water is polluting and destroying our oceans.

There are alternatives in many situations. New York State and many southern states have laws and regulations that require developers to take care of their own stormwater.

I asked a Cornell University professor for information on what NY requires. She replied, in part:

NY State does have a regulation that all new development must handle stormwater on site. Most often that means that there are large bioswales  on site where runoff is directed.

Sometimes  porous asphalt is used. It has been very successful where we've used it. In fact, it has been used much more in southern states because of the fear of frost heaving in the north. Frost heaving has not been a problem as long as as adequate gravel or structural soil base is laid under the porous surface.

That’s right: no dumping in waterways. If the rain percolated into the ground before a developer put in that shopping mall, it will percolate into the ground after the mall is complete.

Hawaii does have regulations governing stormwater disposal. For one thing, there seem to be federal requirements. And of course, municipal systems are absolutely necessary, especially since Hawaii routinely experiences sudden and heavy rainfall. We have to keep the streets clear. We do not have to take that water away from developments, however. If it went into the ground before, it can go into the ground now.

Let’s look at the issue at the Papipi Road community mentioned in the above correction.

A Star-Bulletin story from 2008 describes knee-deep water in the parking lot of Ewa Beach Elementary School. There’s a development failure of major proportions to begin with. But the focus of the story is that the plans in place to dump that stormwater into the ocean would destroy ocean life including limu.

A developer's proposed response: an $8.1 million storm-water drainage system.

The 200-foot-long system would include a concrete headwall and unlined open channel and would incorporate a series of sediment traps, grassy swales or depressions and catch basins that meet city standards, said Sharene Saito Tam, a spokeswoman for the builder, Haseko (Ewa) Inc.

"These measures will help to clean the storm water from Papipi Road before it reaches the ocean, much more so than any of the seven existing ocean outlets that have been in use for that neighborhood for the past several decades," she said.

Critics say it will destroy what little limu is left.

[Star-Bulletin, Limu delays project to ease Ewa flooding, 1/28/2008]

Leave it to Star-Bulletin headline writers to blame the limu. But nevermind.

The story reports that a judge vacated a DLNR construction permit due to the pollution issue. The developer had not considered alternatives to dumping the runoff, with all its pollution (including oils and heavy metals), into the ocean.

In a contested case hearing last year, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. presented alternatives to Haseko's storm-water outfall that included storage and percolation and a vegetated detention basin. The agency also claimed that the developer failed to adequately evaluate several mitigation measures such as grassy swales and an oilwater separator that could reduce the impact of storm-water runoff on coastal waters.

This case is interesting to me because it indicates that the state (in this case, DLNR) may be aware of alternatives to dumping crap in the ocean, but nevertheless is ok with issuing permits to pollute.

Why is it that other states have enacted laws constraining developers but Hawaii has not?

Could it be that while bankers run the federal government, developers run our state government?


Let’s look at how we accept private water pollution as a taxpayer expense closer to home. Closer to my home, at least. I set out to take some snaps of disappearing crosswalk paint in Chinatown this weekend. On the way I snapped these photos around Zippys Vineyard:

Zippys runoff channel

This snap was taken next to the driveway from Maunakea into the restaurant parking lot. Yes, that is a gorgeous plant. But look at the channel next to it. It leads to a the gutter, covered by a steel plate as it passes through the sidewalk. So in heavy rain (any rain, actually), along with whatever crud is in that driveway, Zippy’s wastewater will be washed directly into the roadway and begin its journey to the sea.


Zippys runoff 2

This is another channel, closer to the Vineyard Blvd. corner. It leads from the landscaped area fronting Zippys into the street, again crossing under the sidewalk. Any chemicals used on that area as well as plant material and other runoff move under the sidewalk and into the gutter, after which we taxpayers are responsible for taking away the mess.


Here’s a close-up of that discharge channel, which as you can see has dumped some debris into the street even in the absence of any large rainfall.

Zippys runoff 3

The question I ask is why is this allowed? In particular, since the front area of the restaurant is landscaped, why isn’t the property owner required to let the rainwater percolate into the ground that’s already there?  Do they spray anything on those plants to keep them nice looking? If so, why do we accept the chemicals into our streets?


What do we do with this runoff from private property? We put it in the ocean, of course. You’ve seen those little medallions or stenciled warnings—don’t dump here because it goes into the ocean. Some good that they do. These storm drains are everywhere, and garbage, litter and whatever is in the Zippys driveway most likely finds its way to the ocean since we accept anything and everything into these openings. This photo is actually in the Kapiolani Community College parking lot. A discarded plastic bag is about to embark on a journey out to sea.

Why are we taking away KCC’s storm water and cleaning the parking lot for them?

Goes to Ocean[3]


A walk through Chinatown shows that the problem is worse than just parking lots. We taxpayers actually take the rainwater from roofs, both new and old, into the municipal system. This came about historically. What else were they to do with it? We’re stuck with this water in Chinatown, but the same is not true for developments elsewhere.

This older building has a pipe that brings water down to the sidewalk. Again, there is a channel under the sidewalk and a discharge hole into the gutter.

Chinatown runoff 2


Here’s new construction. But you can see a similar pipe, discharging roof water into the gutter.

Chinatown runoff 1


Taking private runoff water is no-go in many states. Developers have to take care of their water, not taxpayers. Streams, rivers and other waterways are protected.

New York State’s 2010 Stormwater Management Design Manual can be found here. Other states have similar guides and requirements.

I’ve written several articles about the use of permeable asphalt, a well-established technology that we don’t see here in Hawaii. It won’t help that lake in the parking lot at Kokua Market because the water table is simply higher than the asphalt, but with the use of modern techniques and architectural design, most developments, whether for malls or for housing, can dispose of their own water. No pollution of the ocean or destruction of limu should be a consequence—the water would not be dumped into the ocean.

A key word is “infiltration.” Government requires developers to use any of several techniques to let the water that used to go into the ground before there was a shopping mall continue to go into the ground after. Here’s a snip from a NY state guidance manual, it is not all-inclusive:


Our government could protect our health and our oceans if it got on the ball in this area.


Just for eye candy, here’s how porous asphalt works. Yup, rain water can go through asphalt. Check out this video. It’s only a few seconds long. For full effect, please click the little thingy at the lower right for full-screen.

Yes, rainwater can be made to disappear.

Click here for elated stories. More videos here.

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Wow, that porous asphalt looks pretty impressive. I recommend the video clip to anyone reading this post.

As someone who has never heard about porous asphalt before, I do have some concerns. We tend to take asphalt for granted, but it is vulnerable to water, heat and settling. Rain tends to leach away the tar which binds together the aggregate. Heat from the sun creates intense pressures as the asphalt expands and then contracts as it cools.

"Glassphalt" as been used as a means of recycling a small portion of of our enormous glass waste. But broken glass is greatly inferior as an aggregate compared with natural stone. It is too slippery, sliding against other bits of aggregate and glassphalt roads break down faster tan traditional asphaltic concrete.

I am open to the idea of porous asphalt. The video is very impressive both for reasons of safety and for reducing runoff. But I gotta wonder about its longterm practicability. Has it been proven to be cost-effective and longlasting? Or is it still experimental?

It would not work on high-traffic highways such as the H-1, although there are roads that do use it. I'm no expert, but I don't think the H-1 could be economically retrofitted. For a new road, the proper substrate is put in place and so forth. It can be used as an over-layer. Google reveals details, and there is at least one book on the subject.

A compromise approach is to use porous asphalt (more commonly called permeable asphalt) only on the shoulders of the highway. No traffic problem there. If the highway is properly crowned, the water runs off the roadway and simply disappears.

For parking lots it is a natural. It can be used for all or part of a parking lot.

But asphalt isn't the only approach. Swales or bioswales can be attractive ways to dispose of water. For homes, there are driveway treatments using irregularly shaped paving stones that let water drip into the spaces between the stones. There are lots of approaches.

Maintenance for some permeable asphalt surfaces is a bit different than for regular asphalt. At some interval they are vacuumed. There are vacuum trucks for the purpose. The vacuuming cleans the crud out of the pores. I don't know if all permeable asphalt requires that or just some.

In any case, there are big rewards, economical, aesthetic, environmental, etc., for not laying pipe at taxpayer expense to take private stormwater away and dumping it in the ocean.

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