City could have worked harder to prevent Sand Island sewage spill

(Via KHON)

The city continues to clean up after Sunday’s massive wastewater spill at Sand Island.

The spill, which occurred at around 11 a.m. at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, was triggered by a short circuit caused by a surge of wastewater during heavy rains.

While 5,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater spilled into Honolulu Harbor, the plant’s interior suffered much worse.

Honolulu’s mayor said crews have cleaned up all 20 million gallons of sewage that spilled inside the plant, and much of the plant’s power should be restored by Wednesday.

But could the city have done something to prevent it?

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said a perfect storm of events led to damage to the plant and yes, the city could have done better in trying to prevent it.

The sewage that spilled into the storeroom covered the entire basement up to eight feet high. It flowed into the area where the electrical panels are, which caused a power outage.

But the mayor said everything is now cleaned out and expected to work again.

“Once we get power up here, we will be back pretty much to where we were prior to the problem,” Caldwell said.

Sewage is being treated as normal, because the power for that never went out.

Caldwell said the wastewater that spilled in the storeroom was pumped out and treated in a similar manner.

“The good news is 20 million gallons, if it would have gone on the ground, we would have had a major problem cleaning it up,” Caldwell said.

Environmental groups like the Surfrider Foundation are concerned that it happened.

“This was a five-inch rain which was heavy, but we should be prepared for more than that, so if the hurricane had hit directly, it could have been catastrophic,” said Stuart Coleman, Hawaii manager at the Surfrider Foundation.

The mayor said it was a combination of the large tanks called clarifiers being fixed, which led to one of only two channels where sewage flows being usable when the storm hit.

As far as the cost, the mayor said the city is insured with a $75,000 deductible, so that’s likely what it will cost city taxpayers for the damage to the plant.

The mayor said preventive measures are already being done so it doesn’t happen again, and city crews admitted they should have done better.

“They said ‘We’re going to do a better job.’ They stepped up, they owned it… and they said, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do to prevent this from occurring again,’” Caldwell said.

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