Have planners seen Ala Wai trash-bergs

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (11/04/00)
By Ray Pendleton

Last weekend the trash-bergs returned. Several years ago, I began referring to the huge drifts of water-borne garbage that periodically float down the Ala Wai Canal as trash-bergs.

The name seemed appropriate because, like their iceberg namesakes, they are unquestionably hazardous to navigation and much of their mass is hidden beneath the water.

Trash-bergs are composed of virtually anything that floats that can find its way into the streams and storm drains somewhere in the Ala Wai watershed.

Small trees, large branches, logs, weeds, coconuts, foam coolers, car tires, basketballs, plastic bottles and bags, a futon, rubber slippers, a child's Hot Wheels, you name it and eventually you'll see it cruising down stream.

All it takes is one good tropical downpour in the watershed to initiate the process. Within hours, the Ala Wai turns from blue-green to chocolate brown, and drifts of debris begin their run to the sea.

What was unusual about the trash-bergs appearing in Ala Wai harbor last Sunday was it seemed to be just another sunny day in paradise. There was absolutely no clue in Waikiki that the upper reaches of the watershed - primarily the Manoa and Palolo valleys - were receiving enough rain to launch such an onslaught of refuse.

Nevertheless, by mid-morning, tons of this trash-berg building material had been captured by the state's passive trash trap under the Ala Moana Blvd. bridge. And worse, much more had floated by the trap and had accumulated around the hundreds of boats moored in the harbor.

The hardest hit by this deluge of debris were the boats at the Waikiki Yacht Club.

Once surrounded by trash-bergs, any thought of boating that day was totally out of the question. And that included the club's Junior Sailors, whose launching area had been engulfed by the bergs.

Over a period of several days, the ebb and flow of the tides, combined with the Ala Wai's normal outpouring of runoff, finally managed to break up most of the trash-bergs and flush them out into the ocean.

Then the state did it's part and brought in heavy equipment to empty their trash trap and truck the refuse away for disposal.

But the obvious question continues to exist: what can be done to eliminate this relentless pollution of Waikiki's waterway?

After all, it really is much more than just a hazard for boaters. It also presents a health threat to swimmers, surfers, paddlers and divers, and a visual blight for residents and visitors alike.

A recent proposal by Governor Cayetano to create a "Central Park" on the present site of the Ala Wai Golf Course got the attention of several environmental planners.

"This would be a great time to redirect the flow of the Manoa and Palolo streams," they noted. "Through the use of ponds and meandering streams, sediment and upstream pollution could be trapped before it entered the canal."

In response, my first reaction would be to wonder why those same ponds and streams couldn't be incorporated into the design of the present golf course? The course is already there and it pays for itself.

Also, I wonder if those planners have seen the same Ala Wai trash-bergs I've seen, and pictured them within a Central Park-like setting.

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