Honolulu Star Bulletin 06/08/02)
By Ray Pendleton
On Thanksgiving Day, 1993, I nominated the Ala Wai Canal as Water Ways' Turkey of the Year in honor of its polluted waters and the lack of regard given it by its caretaker, the state of Hawaii.
The canal's history, I noted at the time, went back to the era known as the "Roaring '20s" when various entrepreneurs figured they could develop Waikiki if they could control the runoff from the Koolaus and fill in the numerous ponds that dotted the area.
By the time of the stock market crash of 1929, a two-and a half-mile-long canal had been carved into the coral subsurface from Kapahulu to the ocean. It measured between 160 and 260 feet wide and was 10 to 25 feet deep.
Much of present day Waikiki rests upon the material created by the original excavation of the canal.
And while the canal has done what it was designed to do, it has also become more than just a flood-control devise.
In the late 1940s and '50s, the Ala Wai's banks were lined with recreational boat moorings and in the last dozen years it has become one of Hawaii's major flat water training grounds for canoe and kayak paddlers.
Ocean fish such as barracuda and mullet also come into the canal to reproduce and mature, even though its waters are considered the most polluted in our state.
A University of Hawaii study once determined the silt buildup in the Ala Wai averages about three feet every nine years and it recommended the canal be dredged every decade for proper maintenance.
Nevertheless, the Ala Wai has only been dredged twice, once in 1966 and again in 1978. And, with the lack of dredging, the canal's bottom has silted in to the point that it could soon become a better venue for track meets than for canoe races.
But, hold on to your hats, it now appears this will be the year the Ala Wai Canal's deplorable condition receives the maintenance attention it deserves.
Steve Thompson, the Oahu district manager for the state's small boat harbors, has warned Ala Wai boaters that some new pilings will soon be temporarily installed near the turning basin for mooring the barges needed for the upcoming canal dredging operation.
The project is expected to begin in July and take nearly a year, but once completed, the Ala Wai will have its original navigable depth for the first time in decades.
To add the frosting to this long-overdue cake, Thompson has also said a new water-borne trash collector is currently being built to replace the present dilapidated trap in the canal under the Ala Moana bridge.
The old trash trap design was functional -- albeit poorly maintained and utilized -- so hopefully the new version will also allow floating debris to be held beneath the bridge, out of sight, until it can be removed and trucked away to a landfill.
With the completion of these two projects, it appears I'll need to find a new Water Ways Turkey this Year.
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