The Green Leaf

NRDC's annual beach report

June 25th, 2014


The Natural Resources Defense Council's annual report on clean water at beaches across the U.S. is out. Hawaii had two that ranked among the 35 "superstars." Photo by Nina Wu.

The Natural Resources Defense Council's annual report on clean water at beaches across the U.S. is out, Hawaii had two that ranked among the 35 "superstars" for water quality, but water pollution continues to be a problem in Hawaii and nationwide. Photos by Nina Wu.

First, the good news.

Two Hawaii  beaches – Hapuna Beach State Park on the Big Island and Po‘ipu Beach Park on Kauai —  made it to the Natural Resource Defense Council's list of 35 "superstar" beaches for consistently meeting water quality safety thresholds.

Now, the bad news.

Serious water pollution continues to be a problem at many  U.S. seashores, with massive stormwater runoff and sewage overflows being the largest known sources.

Ten percent of all water quality samples collected last year from 3,500 coastal and Great Lakes beaches in the U.S. contained bacteria levels that failed to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's most protective benchmark for swimmer safety. So contamination levels at the nation's beaches remain essentially unchanged from last year.

Hawaii ranked No. 8  (out of 30), with samples exceeding the benchmark by seven percent in 2013. Want to know which beaches had the highest percent exceedance rates of the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units per 100 ml marine water in a single sample?

Waimea recreation Pier State Park (44 percent), Hanalei Beach Park (34 percent) and Lumaha‘i Beach (33 percent) on Kauai; Analani Pond (30 percent) on the Big Island; and Kahanamoku Beach in Honolulu (36 percent).

Hey! Wasn't Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki (the one near Hilton Hawaiian Village) recently ranked No. 1 by Dr. Beach? Go figure.

Now, the seven percent exceedance rate is actually an increase, the highest level to date, in the past five years, which generally hovered between 3 and 4 percent.

We all know that sewage overspill is a major problem at some of our most beautiful windward and North Shore beaches, and continue to be a problem. When the water's brown, stay out. The state department of health is hopefully posting warnings and advisories on a regular basis.

There are also 17 repeat offenders at beaches from California to New York that exhibit chronic water pollution problems. Luckily, none of those beaches were in Hawaii.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “But no matter where you live, urban slobber and other pollution can seriously compromise the water quality at your favorite beach and make your family sick. To help keep us healthy at the beach and stem the tide of water pollution, our government leaders can finalize a critical proposal – the Clean Water Protection Rule – to restore vital protections for the streams and wetlands that help sustain clean beaches.”

The results and full report are available in the NRDC's annual "Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches."

You can also find your zip code on a searchable map at


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