Communities Come Together
to Look After Ala Wai Canal

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (8/15/98)
By Ray Pendleton

Why do you suppose a river's outlet into the ocean is called a mouth, when a name from the opposite end of the digestive tract might be more accurate?

Take the Ala Wai Canal for example. Its "mouth" in the marina adjacent to Ala Moana Park doesn't consume anything, instead excreting everything from the rain water of Manoa to whatever is washed from Waikiki's streets.

If it floats, the boat owners in the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor have probably seen it passing on its way to the open ocean. And, perhaps more insidiously, there has been much that has passed, or collected on the bottom, unseen, such as pesticides and lead compounds.

There was a time when the boaters were being blamed for bad housekeeping, or worse. But, that was before various studies were made of the non-point source pollution of the canal and its tributaries, which together make up the Ala Wai Watershed. Then it was clear, the pollution was coming to the boaters, not from them.

In 1996, the Ala Wai Canal Watershed Water Improvement Project was established and Eugene Dashiell was named as its coordinator. And, by the fall of last year, it had submitted a packet with numerous projects to improve the Ala Wai's water quality to the City of Honolulu and the State of Hawai`i.

Then, with funding from the federal government, the state's Clean Water Branch of the Health Department began to orchestrate meetings in the neighborhoods that make up the Ala Wai Watershed: Manoa, Palolo, McCully/Ala Moana/Kakaako, Moilili-St. Louis Heights, Kaimuki/Kapahulu/Diamond Head, Makiki/Tantalus/Papakolea, and Waikiki.

Those "town meetings" served to bring people together and to get input as to how best to implement the projects identified by Dashiell, as well as how to implement ideas of their own. Subsequently, the seven neighborhood groups each formed a subwatershed committee which was allowed a budget of up to $25,000 to cover project costs.

After many local meetings, the subwatershed committees came together at a conference at the University of Hawaii's East-West Center in June to unveil their projects to the entire Ala Wai Watershed Improvement Project group.

With 14 community-based projects in all, several are planned for stream bank restoration along the upper reaches of the Manoa and Palolo streams. The restorations, it is hoped, will decrease erosion and increase public awareness for their value.

In lower regions of the streams, taro loi and child education sites are part of the plan.

In the more urban areas, where the canal's tributaries are storm drains, filters to catch petroleum products and heavy metals are proposed, along with debris-catching booms and canal-side plants.

Now the Ala Wai Canal Watershed Improvement Project has announced a hoolaulea, or gathering, to celebrate a partnership of residents, businesses and governments "coming together to care for the water that flows from the mountain to the sea."

It will be held next Saturday, August 22, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hilton Hawaiian Village's Tapa Tower Ballroom.

All who are interested are invited to become a partner in this on-going project, and contrary to the old saying, there is a free lunch. Preregistration is a must, so call today, 988-0450.

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