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Plan to clean up polluted Ala Wai canal with thousands of mudballs

By Paul Drewes

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — An ambitious project aims to clear up one of Oahu’s most polluted waterways: the Ala Wai Canal.

That clean up plan involves tossing mud into the water, but not just any mud. Mudballs packed with helpful micro-organisms.

The Ala Wai Canal carries water from three streams to the ocean, along with plenty of pollutants, making this waterway unsafe for fishing or swimming

“As a person who paddles in the Ala Wai, it is known if you have a cut and water splashes on it, you will get sick,” said Jenny Do, President-Elect of Eco Rotary Club of Kakaako.

She helped organize an event to help clean up the Ala Wai. In doing so, hundreds of volunteers got their hands dirty, by making genki balls.

“The mudballs, made with molasses, and rice bran are home to beneficial micro-oganisms. Each contains 3 to 33 billion beneficial bacteria,” stated Hiromichi Nago, technical adviser for Genki Ala Wai Project.

Over the past 2 and a half years, hundreds of genki balls have been tossed into a few areas of the waterway, which have made a difference for small sections of the canal.

“We are seeing sand which was never seen before. Genki balls actually digest the sludge on the bottom and help to oxygenate it, so we have even seen schools of mullet back here,” added Nago.

The clean up effort has been slow going, as it is not being funding by the state. Instead a non-profit organization partners with volunteers, who make and toss the genki balls, and local businesses which provide the funding for this bio-remediation technology.

“I grew up in this area, when to school on the Ala Wai. The idea of doing something that can improve the Ala Wai, it is a dream come true for all of us,” said Dan Shiu, Branch Manager for UBS Financial Services.

According to Nago, the balls release helpful bacteria, which in turn provide building block resources for a healthy ecosystem. Those microorganisms also eat the sludge that fills up the canal, helping to dredge the waterway.

Now that the group has seen small gains, it has its sights set on an ambition goal for the Ala Wai canal.

“The goal is to make it so people can swim and fish in it, in the next seven years,” said Nago.

It would take an estimated 200,000 genki balls to clean up the very visible waterway.

“People walk by it. Paddlers use it as a recreational area, and it could be a jewel in Waikiki,” added Nago.

Materials and costs for data collection add up to about 5 dollars per genki ball, so it would cost a million dollars and thousands of volunteer hours to reach that goal.

“I paddle the Ala Wai a couple times a week, and I noticed it is getting dirtier. So, if I am going to spend that much time in it, I want to clean it,” added Do.

The cost to also clean waterways leading to the Ala Wai would be four times that amount.

But making the Ala Wai clean, clear and able to swim in again is something volunteers and organizations will be working to make a reality over the next few years.

“Everyone know the Ala Wai Canal, and the condition of it. The idea of improving it with something so simple, we just love the opportunity to be a part of it,” added Shiu.

On Saturday, 5,000 genki balls that were made a few weeks ago, will be tossed into the Kapahulu end of the the Ala Wai Canal.

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