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State health officials too slow and vague with brown-water warnings, group says

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 2:01 a.m. HST, Dec 10, 2013

LIHUE » Advisories warning Kauai residents about brown water that may contain hazardous substances should be issued faster and in more detail, according to an environmental group.

Carl Berg, project manager of Kauai Surfrider's Blue Water Task Force, said state brown-water warnings have not been timely or complete, The Garden Island reported.

"The real problem is the system isn't working," he said.

The state Department of Health Clean Water Branch in the last month has issued two brown-water advisories for Kauai. The advisories urged people to stay out of floodwaters and stormwater runoff because of possible "overflowing cesspools, sewer manholes, pesticides, animal fecal matter, dead animals, pathogens, chemicals and associated debris."

Such material can lead to diseases.

"It is important because there's a lot of stuff that comes out with the brown water," said Watson Okubo, monitoring and analysis section chief of the branch. "We always tell (people), ‘If the water is brown, stay out.'"

The agency issued an advisory last week after Kauai rivers and nearshore waters had been chocolate brown for more than a day, Berg said. The advisory included nothing west of Nawili­wili despite torrential rain.

"First, they are quite often delayed, as much as 24 hours," Berg said. "And the second thing is that they don't necessarily cover all the areas that are being impacted by heavy rain and brown water."

Staff members are cautious about issuing warnings without verification, Okubo said.

Berg contends warnings should be sent out immediately and that health officials should not be conservative with them.

"You're never going to get slammed for erring on the side of caution," he said. "But you are going to get slammed if you never issue a major warning and there is an outbreak."

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