Hui O Ka Wai Ola gets FEMA funds to increase water quality testing in Lahaina

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(L-R) Hui O Ka Wai Ola Program Manager, Liz Yannell and Program Coordinator, Christiane Keyhani collect coastal ocean water samples at Māla Ramp wearing waders and other protective equipment. (Photo: Jodi Kimmel)

Hui O Ka Wai Ola, a community-based water-quality monitoring organization, was awarded funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to increase its collection of West Maui water quality data in response to the Lahaina wildfire.

HOKWO was one of the first groups to test water quality in the burn zone and continues to monitor conditions at seven sites within Lahaina town. The funds will ensure testing in West Maui can continue for one year and will help replace laboratory equipment lost in the fire. 

“We were impressed and humbled by how quickly Maui County, FEMA, and DOH approved support to help the Hui expand coastal water quality monitoring at this critical time,” said Tova Callender of West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative. “The Department of Health has been a steadfast partner in navigating the necessary and somewhat challenging paperwork required to make this happen.”


The funding will also enable HOKWO to collect at least four “first-flush” samples at 11 sites within and adjacent to Lahaina when heavy rains next occur. Samples collected will provide data to address concerns regarding the effects of toxic ash washing into nearby ecosystems.

“We wouldn’t be able to continue our important work and coastal water quality monitoring after the devastating fires without the help from the Maui County Emergency Operating Center and FEMA. We are so grateful,” said Liz Yannell, Program Manager at Hui O Ka Wai Ola. “The Hui would also like to thank The Hawai‘i Institute for Marine Biology Restore with Resilience Lab, who immediately provided equipment to bridge the gap between losing our lab and securing state support.” 

In August, HOKWO collected samples from Lahaina sites for partnering researchers to test for the presence of heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile organic compounds in collaboration with research partners, with findings yet to be released.


HOKWO also partnered with Surfrider Blue Water Task Force to collect samples for enterococcus bacteria at all seven Lāhainā fire response sites. Enterococcus results can be found at

HOKWO regularly tests coastal waters for physical parameters such as temperature, pH, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. In addition, they collect samples to identify chemical parameters in a nutrient panel including nitrate, ammonia, total nitrogen, phosphate, total phosphorus, and silicate.


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