Convention Center
Might Be Good for Ala Wai Canal

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (6/13/98)
By Ray Pendleton

Well, it's official. Hawaii's controversial "world-class" convention center is now open for business on the banks of the Ala Wai Canal.

Considering last night's water-borne grand opening pageant - some 18 double-hulled canoes bearing chanters, dancers, alii and King Kamehameha himself - it occurred to me that although many of the center's neighbors have serious questions about its impact to their lives, for the canal itself, the center will be a godsend.

After all, with thousands of visitors scheduled to use the center each year, it is not likely we will ever see the Ala Wai Canal so shamefully ignored as it has been in the past. Conventioneers packed into a palace along a debris-clogged, foul-smelling waterway would be unconscionable.

In retrospect, there would seem to be a direct correlation between when the location for the convention center was finalized and when politicians and bureaucrats began taking particular interest in the condition of the canal.

In just the last five years we have seen the condition of the Ala Wai go from just a Waikiki problem to one that encompasses what is appropriately termed the "Ala Wai Watershed." Halting canal pollution is now involving the residents of Manoa, Palolo, Makiki, Punchbowl, Tantalus, Moiliili, St. Louis Heights, Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Diamond Head, Ala Moana, Kakaako, and McCully, as well as Waikiki.

It is generally understood now that when a drop of rain falls somewhere in that vast area, it eventually finds its way to the sea via the Ala Wai Canal. And with it comes whatever it picks up along the way - dirt, foliage, trash, insecticides, herbicides, animal waste, petroleum products, tire and brake residues - anything that can be caught up in the flow of a stream or a storm drain.

This understanding led to the formation of the community-based Ala Wai Watershed Improvement Project, coordinated by the state Health Department and with funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Once the watershed was divided into community-sized sub-watershed areas, volunteers from those areas were asked to propose projects that would have a positive effect on watershed runoff.

Nominated projects are being presented in their first open hearing today at the University of Hawaii's East-West Center.

Of the 15 individual projects, several involve stream or stream bank restoration for the Kanaha and Manoa Streams and the Manoa-Palolo Canal. Through restoration it is hoped that soil erosion will be diminished, esthetics will be increased, and the community will then place more value on the streams due to their raised awareness.

Other projects involve the creation of educational stream stewardship sites for children, with the use of taro loi (terraces), which would also capture sediment before it runs to the Ala Wai.

In the more urban areas, proposed projects include installing filters in storm drains, planting hedges in Magic Island to capture wind-blown litter, establishing water quality monitoring activities and restoring a natural wetlands area in Kapiolani Park.

Whether all of the sub-watershed clean-up measures are approved and funded remains to be seen, but they all have what it takes to help make the Ala Wai more compatible with a convention center full of impressionable visitors.

There is also the not-so-insignificant benefit that they have what it takes to make the canal a healthier place for those who regularly use the canal for recreational purposes.

Last week's Column -|- More Water Ways

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