Brown Water Still Calls Ocean Lovers

Recent heavy rains that caused flooding also led to brown-water warnings

It was early morning, Dec. 20. The sun was peeking over the horizon at Kailua Beach and I was locked up in an internal battle: “Should I go in or not?” My heart said yes, but my mind said, “Don’t be foolish.”

A winter storm had soaked Oahu, including a whopping 8 inches of rain in a 24-hour-period in our subdivision. But my personal dilemma was happening at Kailua Beach, where a brown-water advisory had been issued and warning signs alerting beachgoers to contaminated water laced the shoreline.

I got out of my truck knowing what awaited my eyes. It’s no secret what happens at the mouth of Kaelepulu Stream after heavy showers. The city’s sewage collection system is often overwhelmed, resulting in overflow that empties into the ocean.

From the strong, sour odor in the air it was obvious this storm was no different, and the signs were up for a good reason. I jumped back in my truck and gave it one last look.

“I’m going in.”

I quickly removed my one-man canoe from the truck as if I were committing a crime. I knew what was out there and it was my decision, but why did I feel like a hypocrite?

“Does your wife know you’re here?” said a strange voice behind me. I quickly turned, didn’t recognize the face but that wasn’t important.

“No, everyone is still sleeping,” I responded with unexplained guilt.

“It’s filthy out there,” said the mysterious woman.

“I know, but I’ll be fine,” I fired back and picked up my half-assembled canoe and rushed to the ocean’s edge. The odor was offensive and the water even murkier and nastier up close.

“This is dumb,” I told myself as I wrapped my leash around my ankle and headed out to the ocean. I gingerly stroked my way past coconuts, tree branches and other debris that had washed out with the “fecal matter.”

I was still rationalizing my decision.

Growing up on Kaua’i 40-plus years ago, there were always brown-water advisories or water contamination warning signs. I have vivid memories of bodysurfing at Kalapaki Beach near Pine Tree Inn where the river empties in to the ocean. It was always brown there with that “funny smell,” but it was no big deal!

At Pakalas on Kaua’i’s West Side, same story – always brown, always nasty, but the surf was always great. We showered with soap after surfing all day and went on with our day. It was no big deal.

So why was this paddling session bothering me so much? By the time I asked that question I was in the clear. The brown had been replaced by blue and the nasty scent was gone. It was the best two hours of my day. When I got home I scrubbed every inch of my body with anti-bacterial soap and went on with my day. It was no big deal.

I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to look past the warning signs, because they’re there for good reason. Water samples are taken by the Department of Health following sewage overflows, and those samples often reveal high concentrations of bacteria. The information allows beachgoers to make informed decisions. It is ultimately your choice to heed the warnings.

On that Monday morning I chose not to heed. Was it a foolish decision?

According to my wife it was.

But the following morning I was sitting in my truck, locked up in this same internal battle.

“Should I go in or not?” Guess what I did?

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