Ala Wai Canal Dredging Is Long Overdue

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (04/05/97)
By Ray Pendleton

Since the day the Water Ways column first appeared - appropriately, some say, on April Fool's Day, 1993 - I have often tried to bring attention to the neglected state of the Ala Wai Canal, recently designated Hawaii's most polluted waterway.

Constructed over a seven-year period during the "Roaring Twenties," the canal's original function was to channel the normal runoff from the surrounding watershed, which included the Manoa, Palolo, and Makiki streams, into the sea and create a dry footing for Waikiki's developers.

Naturally, once it was dug, the canal became an attractive waterway for recreational boaters and paddlers, and for many years had boat slips lining its banks.

In the early 1960s, it became apparent that the continuous watershed runoff also brought sediment with it which built up on the bottom of the canal. To restore its water-carrying capacity and it's recreational potential, the canal had its first, long over due dredging in 1966.

A University of Hawaii study recommended dredging the canal every 10 years to maintain its water flow to the sea and, nearly on time, the Ala Wai was dredged again in 1978.

Unfortunately, even though the decade of the 80s was a time of prosperity and big budgets, for some reason the dredging of the Ala Wai was not included in them.

So now, as we near the next millennium and another decade has gone by, the once 10- to 25-foot deep canal is more of a mud flat in some areas. As with another ignored and embarrassing water-filled Waikiki landmark, the Natatorium War Memorial, the state seems to have lacked the will to fund its long-term maintenance.

Even the funds for a required environmental assessment to determine the nature of the material to be dredged, which were provided by last year's legislature, were stalled for a time by the governor and are just now being used.

Once the Ala Wai's bottom sediment has been analyzed - the results should be available sometime next year - the actual cost of the dredging operation and the potential for some federal funding can be determined.

In a best-case scenario, the sediment will be sufficiently free of contaminants and it will be barged out to an open ocean dump site for a currently estimated $10 million. If the material doesn't pass this "bioassay" test, it might need to be taken to a hazardous material landfill site and the cost would surely rise.

On a positive note from this year's state legislature, House Bill 350, which has an appropriation for Ala Wai dredging among other things, is still alive and waiting for its turn for a Senate hearing.

Perhaps in order to draw their colleagues' attention to the importance of funding the dredging, Senators Les Ihara, Jr. and Carol Fukanaga have indicated they will participate in this morning's 8:30 Ala Wai Canal Waters 1997 Muck Walk, sponsored by the Ala Wai Watershed Community Network.

According to network representative Duane Rogers, the Muck Walk is intended to help the public and public officials recognize that in a mere 17 months the Hawai`i Convention Center will open its doors. With its grand promenade focusing directly down to the Ala Wai, it will be the gathering place of business people from around the world.

Obviously, the canal is not ready for their scrutiny. So, in the highly competitive convention market, the question becomes, how long can the state ignore the polluted vista the Ala Wai provides those visitors? And this is on top of questions regarding the canal's health hazards and its threat of flooding to Waikiki.

Keep an eye on HB 350.

Hele on Back