Wai‘oka Pool ~ When NOT to jump!

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SUBMISSION DATE February 21, 2021 to the Hānaside News Spring 2021 Edition

Wai‘oka Pool ~ When NOT to jump!

Recommendations by East Maui Ready Leadership

Maka‘ala in the Hawaiian language means being alert, vigilant, watchful, wide awake, and paying attention. Even with awareness, the changes in weather patterns within a very narrow band, can vary dramatically; and it is often an unfortunate moment that puts loved ones in harm’s way when injury or even death occurs. Coastal East Maui is subject to localized weather events. Thursday, February 18, 2021, even with an active flash flood alert in effect, six visitors were swimming in the lower pool of Waiohonu Stream at Maka‘alae when a flash flood occurred. One, a young woman unfortunately perished. Individual ahupua’a commonly have sudden flash flooding from storms in mountain valleys above, even when weather is sunny along the coastline. Visitors and local residents are advised to always perform a weather check before entering our water catchments and streams. Practice safe stream behavior: “Look to the mountain before and listen for the sound of rushing water always.”

From Hāna’s Fire Captain Gale Notestone, “The fire station staff has discussed this specific event at Waioka (known to visitors as Venus Pool), and the similarities to Kaihalulu Bay (known to visitors as Red Sands Beach). Common denominators are visitors looking for the great Hawaiian experience who go to the places that others have praised – whether found through friends, printed articles/publications and now more than ever, social media. They are out of their element and are not aware of the potential hazards.”

Notestone continues, “In 2011 and 2012, Red Sands had racked up seven injuries within a 6-month period. As an FYI to all, the stats for emergency responses to Waioka are very low. This not a hot spot for injuries such as Kaihalulu. In fact, in my career for more than 25 years in the department, this is the very first death that I know of at Waioka. Red Sands [Kaihalulu] has only had one as well, and that was not from a fall. I am not downplaying the dangers of these area; it is amazing to me that we haven’t had more fatalities. The overall solution is the better we educate our visitors, and are an informed community, the better off we will be.”

The streams in the Maka’alae Ahupua’a only run with heavy rain, when the mountain pools overflow, causing cascades through the river channels – i.e. FLASH FLOODING. Waiohonu Stream feeds into Waioka Pool and only runs as a flash flood corridor. The water that rushes downstream can be filled with dangerous bacteria and debris. At other times, rocks build up between the ocean and Waioka; when standing water is not being flushed by the tides, infection from swimming in the pool can be a problem.

Avoid and DO NOT SWIM in Waioka Pool when:

…WAIOHONU STREAM IS FLOWING ~ EXTREME DROWNING RISK! If it has recently heavily rained, is raining, or Waioka has run within 24-48 hours, stay out of the stream! Subsequent river flow frequently occurs when Waioka has recently run and the upper mountain pools are already near capacity to trigger a flash flood. Get out of channel immediately when it starts to flow – to higher ground, if above the pool or, if in the pool waters, to the rocky beach area – DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CROSS THE STREAM.

…Waterfalls can be seen up the mountain. Go out further than Waioka pool trail at the old oven, and look up on the mountain… Do you see streams running? Are dark clouds over the mountain? If so, don’t go! NOTE: Even when it is sunny down on the coast, rain in the mountain can be triggering flash floods through the stream corridors.

…Kapi‘a Stream to the north is running. This stream often fills up and runs in advance of Waiohonu. If it has started flowing, then soon likely both will be.

…High surf/High tide makes climbing out of the pool difficult. High fall danger exiting pool, requires physical fitness and dexterity to safely climb slippery rock face exiting pool waters.

…There is a flash flood advisory in effect. Check at: https://www.mauicounty.gov/2064/Flash-Flood-Precautions

Beware of additional hazards which may cause injury / infection, including bacteria in standing water, debris, rocks, and ledges underwater. Going to places not managed by state and federal parks in the Hāna area, like Waioka Pool and Kaihalulu Bay, is not recommended for visitor use. When you go, go with a local friend if possible, and when it is safe!

For decades our dedicated leadership in East Maui has worked to mitigate disaster occurrences; involved community members currently meet as ‘East Maui Ready (EMR)’ on the last Wednesday of each month at 5pm. EMR works on building and sustaining a network of emergency preparedness throughout East Maui to assist in times of need. We are currently discussing the addition of rescue tubes in a couple of places at Waioka, and considering additional ways to continue to educate the public, stem misinformation, and inform when there are emergency conditions. See the calendar listing on HanaMaui.com if you would like to join in the EMR discussion, and also visit the https://hanamaui.com/makaala/ page for information and a link to sign up for Maka’ala Maui County Emergency Alerts.