Lahaina - With an unprecedented force of partners, Hui O Ka Wai Ola (Association of the Living Waters) is leading the state in taking steps to protect our fragile marine ecosystem on the West Side.
On their website, www.huiokawaiola.com, they describe themselves as water quality champions, dedicated to quantifying the state of our near shore waters and sharing the results.
With an increase in the frequency of brown water advisories and coastal erosion events, "The whole notion of putting together a volunteer water quality monitoring project started in May of 2014, almost three years ago," Dana Reed told the Lahaina News.
Hui O Ka Wai Ola team volunteers (left to right) Kit Harris, Cathy Maxwell and Jim Maxwell test water samples collected from in front of 505 Front Street.
At that time, Reed said, there was only one person collecting coastal water quality samples on Maui.
"Well, one person for the whole island of Maui was not enough to collect water samples and to actually identify places where there are problems," she observed.
"There are volunteer water quality monitoring projects all over the United States," the Kapalua resident added. "When we started complaining about the brown water here and asking who's paying attention, the state Department of Health (DOH) acknowedged that they didn't have the staffing to adequately monitor, and we were encouraged to put together a volunteer program."
From there, an awe-inspiring and impactful alliance formed; and, on Feb. 28, the DOH approved the Hui's Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP).
"We are the first community group that has ever gotten a QAPP approved by the state DOH," Reed beamed; and now the data collected is deemed official.
The collective efforts of many earned this coveted status.
A powerful coalition of four spearheaded the organization of the Hui, including The Nature Conservancy, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative and University of Hawaii Maui College.
Steering Committee members are Project Manager Emily Fielding, The Nature Conservancy; Robin Newbold, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council; Tova Callender, Ridge to Reef Initiative; Quality Assurance Officer Kim Falinski, The Nature Conservancy; and West Maui Team Leader Dana Reed, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council.
The Steering Committee meets monthly, assesses conditions, seeks funding and drafts battle plans.
But it is the trained and dedicated volunteer citizen scientists that deserve much of the credit.
They are Ty Freiberg, Terry Schroeder, Marie Schroeder, Brenda Jarmakani, Cathy Maxwell, Jim Maxwell, Kit Harris, Rich Bayly, George Burnette, Nell Woods, Michelle Griffoul, John Voorhis, Alana Yurkanin, Roxie Silva, Ananda Stone and Bill Rathfon.
"My volunteers are an amazing group of people. Steadfast and rock solid, they have just been so awesome. They have such diverse backgrounds; it's so interesting to work with these people who have become very passionate about the water," Reed said.
"We have 18 sites from Napili Bay to the Pali, and we're monitoring 18 times a year, every three weeks," Reed noted.
"They collect all these samples, and they test the water in the field for pH, salinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, temperature," to name a few.
The data is entered on spreadsheets, then input online. The ultimate goal is to identify what's causing the degradations.
"Further, it tells us where we want to investigate. Why is there brown water here? Is it coastal erosion? Is it stream input? Do we have a faulty valve in one of the sediment basins?"
If the nitrate levels are high, identify- ing the source is another objective. "It can either be fertilizers, or it can be wastewater. Either one or both are the most common sources of high nitrates," she advised.
Ananda Stone joined the Hui, because she "saw the need to collect the data on our near shore waters."
"In order to properly manage our water, we need to monitor all areas of the coastline, before we can figure out where the problems are, and how to come up with the solutions."
"By collecting the data using the Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP), I hope that we can empower our community leaders to take actions in improving water quality of our coastlines to benefit our reefs, the marine life and the people on Maui," Stone said.
"Before proper management can happen, we need to know what is going on. We can find out where brown water events are more common, what type of pollutants might be in the run off, and what the levels of pollutants are," she added.
Ekolu Lindsey is the facilitator of the Polanui Community Managed Makai Area, located in the waters off his family home in south Lahaina, where the volunteers test in four different locations.
"Testing will provide us with information to come up with an effective management plan. We've already found out that of all testing sites on West Maui, ours is the most turbid. This is directly attributed to direct sediment transport to the ocean and the lack of near shore circulation to flush the sediment out."
The impact could be far-reaching.
"This will have devastating effects on coral," he surmised. "We won't see it in our lifetime, but perhaps my great-grand kids will suffer the effects of our actions today. If the coral dies off, no fish house, no fish, no Lima and no shoreline protection from wave energy."
He acknowledges the efforts of the Hui.
"The volunteers are dedicated and the foot soldiers of an important part of ecological restoration. The simple act of water sampling allows those involved to really see the big picture. And it's not a pretty one; but, we can and will make a difference to make our home better for those who have not been born yet."
Outreach, engaging the community is vital to resolution.
"We want the community to be aware of the water quality here; how it affects the marine environment; how it affects us for recreation. I think people honestly don't know. The community needs to be involved in water quality, or we'll never fix the problems that we have," Reed observed.
"Each and every one of us has to participate. Get involved, do something about all the negative impacts we put on the environment. Pick up the rubbish on the ground instead of walking by it. Better yet, dispose of it properly in the first place. Stop washing restaurant mats on Front Street and allowing all the chemicals to drain straight to the ocean. Stop trampling coral with kayaks, SUPs and reef walking. There are many things we can do; we just have to have the will and make an effort," he said.
Or join the clean ocean team, visit the Hui's website -- "because the quality of the water = the quality of life."