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Why, Oh Ala Wai

What You May Not Know About This Deceptive Waterway

By Jeremy Neal


Oh the Ala Wai canal—it started as a beautiful idea. “Hey, let’s build this canal to dredge the rice paddies so we can make a beautiful tourist area called Waikiki.” Great idea huh? Well… we do have a tourist area called Waikiki, but now we also have a deceptively deadly canal with mutant three-eyed Tilapia, and a mixture of everything that makes its way down the storm drains from our beloved Waikiki. It never started out this bad, or with the intent of becoming as dangerous as it is now, but over the years, decisions were made that transformed the Ala Wai Canal into an unsanitary cesspool of rubbish and feces.

In 1921, the goal was simple; to build a canal and divert the flow of smaller streams near the rice paddies and farmland away from the ocean. In doing this, the opportunity to develop new land for building was created, and the concept of Waikiki was born. Though the idea was good, the delivery left much to be desired. Because of the way that the Ala Wai was built, it does not have enough natural water flow to filter streams through the canal. While dredging the canal does assist in getting rid of all the old nastiness, all of the Waikiki storm drains and runoffs pour into the canal as well, so there is a continual stream of unfiltered, unsanitary runoff water entering the space. Additionally, the Ala Wai has never been the same after extensive flooding in 2006. The pressure from a heavy rainstorm caused a sewage line to burst. All sewage at that point was diverted into the canal in order to make sure the surrounding hotels and houses didn’t back up.

So now onto the important part; the dos and don’ts:

Do: go for a nice canoe ride or paddle outrigger in the Ala Wai, but don’t fall over. (One man has already died of septic shock from the Ala Wai waters)

Do: go for a run along the beautiful Ala Wai, but don’t splash water on your face if you get hot. (Bacteria enters very easily through canals in your eyes, don’t make it the Ala eye canal)

Do: stop to sit on the benches near the Ala Wai and enjoy a beautiful day, but don’t put your feet in. (especially if you have cuts on them from surfing)

And most importantly, never eat the three-eyed Tilapia.

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