Supporting the Public’s Right to Clean Ocean Water

Update May 2021: SB350 unfortunately died in committee meetings. We look forward to reintroducing and pursuing this bill again during the 2022 legislative session.

The Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) runs a beach monitoring program and issues advisories when bacteria levels exceed the health standard. HDOH also issues Brown Water Advisories (BWAs) to warn beachgoers of polluted stormwater at the beach during rain and flooded conditions.

The HDOH program, however, leaves public health at risk in many instances. Families, ocean users, surfers, swimmers, canoe paddlers, fishers, and beachgoers are all at risk from a lack of monitoring at local beaches and failure to post signs during Brown Water Advisories.

SB350 does not require the DOH to increase the number of sites it monitors nor does it require additional costs. Rather it focuses on improving the state’s beach monitoring program by requiring HDOH to:

  • Ensure that water quality sampling adequately includes local beaches and is not biased towards tourist beaches.
  • Work with partners to post health warning signs at beaches during Brown Water Advisories to provide better warning to unsuspecting beachgoers.
  • Sample regularly scheduled coastal waters during Brown Water Advisories and not skip monitoring if there is a BWA.
  • Fill the Environmental Management Division’s Chief of Staff position that has been vacant for more than two years.
  • Protect public health and the public’s right to know if coastal waters are clean and safe.

Through comprehensive and long-term testing by the Blue Water Task Force on the three islands – Kauai, Oahu and Maui– Surfrider has generated ample information to demonstrate that a reallocation of HDOH sampling resources is justified to be most protective of coastal recreation and public health.

Ultimately, SB 350 is designed to help community members and residents make informed decisions on where and when it is safe for them and their families to get into the water, while also ensuring that statewide quality monitoring is more routine, transparent, and equitable across Hawaii beaches. The bill further recommends providing more oversight and guidance to the Environmental Management Division for better implementation of their clean water permitting, monitoring and research programs. 

To get involved or join our sign-on letter, please email LBlickley@surfrider.org.