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How Wastewater Spills Happen

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A sign warning swimmers of contaminated waters caused by a sewage spill.

On Oahu, as in other developed coastal and island areas around the world, heavy rains and spills go hand-in-hand.

ENV crews are well-trained, well-equipped and highly motivated. They are part of our community and care about it, as you do.

Whatever the cause—heavy rains, a ruptured pipe, old or malfunctioning equipment, the protocol is generally the same.

Warning signs are posted immediately at potentially affected beaches and streams to alert people to keep out of near shore waters. We collect water samples and test for harmful bacteria. We bring in 3,000-gallon capacity pump trucks to suck up the spills on land. Other team members find the problem and fix it, then help homeowners deal with problems on private property.

After a spill, lab specialists continue collecting samples for testing until Oahu's oceans and streams are cleared. We process the results within 24 hours and deliver them to the state Department of Health (DOH) for review. Warning signs remain until we are certain water quality is safe. (Sadly, warning signs are often stolen as quickly as they are put up). DOH decides when the waters meet state and federal clean water requirements and are safe for recreation.

Wastewater spills are bound to occur in a heavily populated island community such as Oahu. The wastewater system is constantly being repaired and upgraded to reduce the frequency and severity of spills.

Last Reviewed: Tuesday, May 10, 2011