When heavy rains hit the islands, surrounding waters can turn from tropical aqua blue to Mississippi brown in several hours. It may not be the color of choice for visitors, or anyone for that matter, which is why the state often issues Brown Water Advisories to prevent people from going into storm water runoff. This recent storm has hit Oahu and Kauai the hardest, putting them at such advisory level.

Koko Marina waters on Oahu’s east side looking pretty murky.

What makes brown so bad? The state Department of Health points out that it’s likely the water has waste from overflowed cesspools or sewer manholes, pesticides, dead animals, animal fecal matter, chemicals and other debris associated with floods. In other words, it’s best to stay out, or you’ll risk getting really sick, especially if you have an open wound or swallow affected waters.

Even if waters manage to keep their aqua blue shade, the public should refrain from jumping in, as bacteria and debris may still be present. If you’re in doubt, then rely on your nose; it never lies. All that trash can smell really bad. Also, these contaminated waters are usually caused by flash floods, so don’t plan on taking that kayak trip up the river or even going near anything resembling a stream or a low-lying area. The serene, trickling brook you saw yesterday could be a torrential deluge of mud and tree stumps the next. Flash floods can create dangerous currents or a surge of water running downstream.

I usually wait several days after the Brown Water Advisory has been lifted before even thinking about dipping in a toe or two. Why risk it? Instead, find something else fun to do on a rainy day in Hawaii. If the roads are completely flooded and therefore closed, like they have been on parts of Kauai, then wait out the storm indoors.

You’d not only risk your health when going into the waters on a rainy day, but you’re life. With heavy rains, comes even heavier thunder and lighting. I’m sure I don’t have to connect the dots for you on this one.

To find out which areas have sewage spills or Brown Water Advisories, visit: www.hawaii.gov/doh/waterquality.

Photo Credit: Bruce Fisher


  1. We will arrive on Oahu Sunday night March 11, 2012. Regarding brown water warning
    1. Is it still raining now?
    2. If not raining, do you think advisory will be lifted by Tuesday?? We are going to pearl harbor on Monday
    Staying in Hilton hawaii resort in Waikiki

  2. Aloha Elaine,
    Thanks for stopping by our blog! In response to your questions, unfortunately, it is still raining and they’ve forecasted it to continue on through the weekend, possible thunderstorms. As for early next week, when you arrive, it should be partly cloud with chances of showers…but looks like there might be some sunshine. As with anywhere else, the weather is, of course, subject to change. In Hawai’i, we are unique in that we have microclimates. So it may be rainy on one part of the island and sunny on another part.

    In response to your second question, it’s difficult to say when they will lift the advisory. But knowing that it will be raining again this weekend may mean that it won’t be lifted anytime soon. It takes several days for the brown water to travel far out to see. Check this site when it gets closer to Tuesday: http://emdweb.doh.hawaii.gov/cwb/wqd/viewer/. It will tell you which islands are under such advisory.

    Regardless, I know you guys will have fun. Pearl Harbor and other museums are good places to start on rainy days in Hawai’i. And don’t forget, there is always shopping! The rain shouldn’t stick around for long next week..hopefully..so perhaps you’ll get some beach time in the latter half. Let us know if you have any more questions!

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