DOH issues water contamination advisory after overflow at dairy

The state Department of Health on Sunday issued a water contamination advisory, warning the public to stay out of the waters in Kaohaoha Gulch and the coastal waters fronting it near Ookala because of animal waste contamination.

According to the DOH, water within the gulch was contaminated after a retention pond at Big Island Dairy overflowed because of heavy rainfall.

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“The dairy informed DOH that the heavy rains had overwhelmed their lagoons and although they pumped the water from the lagoons, they were unable to prevent the overflow into the gulch because of too much rainwater,” said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

Pumping consists of pumping water from the lagoons onto the ground at the dairy, she said.

Signs are posted and the public is advised to remain out of these waters until the advisory is taken down.

Community members are exasperated by the latest overflow from the dairy.

“It’s so frustrating,” said Ookala property owner Charlene Nishida. “It’s so blatantly obvious that the dairy is not able to operate in a way that is legal and it’s shocking and alarming that they haven’t been forced to shut down.”

This is the rainy season, she said, and there is “nothing excessive” about recent rains.

“When something is a typical weather pattern, you can’t call it an exception.”

Okubo said the DOH shares the community’s concerns.

“The DOH is very concerned about the ongoing discharges, and I think that the weather and the terrain and the location have not been very conducive to these operations,” Okubo said. “So as they move toward the complete closure (of the dairy), our staff will work out an agreement or a settlement that protects the community and the environment.”

Big Island Dairy owners confirmed in November that they will discontinue dairy and milk processing operations at the Ookala facility, which has been owned by Steve and Derek Whitesides since 2011.

Residents of Ookala have long complained about releases of manure-laden water from the dairy into nearby gulches that run through or next to the community.

In the past year, several spills and discharges occurred at the dairy. The most recent was in December, when nearly 600,000 gallons of wastewater were discharged into Kaohaoha Gulch.

The DOH said heavy rain has also caused storm water runoff to enter coastal waters.

The public is advised to stay out of flood waters and storm water runoff because of possible overflowing cesspools, sewers, manholes, pesticides, animal fecal matter, dead animals and flood debris.

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“Not all coastal areas may be impacted by runoff; however, if the water is brown stay out,” the advisory states.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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