Community Partners Make Retrofit Happen

A project that earns the commitment of many is more likely to succeed, and a local watershed guardian is proving it so with rocks, plants and a steady hand on the garden hose.

The Popoi’a Street Storm Water Retrofit Project was completed last month amid ceremonial fanfare by engineers, contractors, teachers, students, neighbors, businesses, funders and volunteers – all coordinated by the nonprofit Hui o Ko’olaupoko.


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Todd Cullison of Hui o Ko'olaupoko waters the native vegetation while standing on some of the pervious pavers. To his left, a mini rain garden of larger stones can also slow stormwater runoff from the parking lot into the Kaelepulu Stream. Photo by Rachel Breit.

Executive director Todd Cullison gazed proudly at the work on a recent weekday, while watering hundreds of newly installed native plants at the site – the site being what most folks call “Buzz’s parking lot” next to Kaelepulu Stream. It’s been transformed into a carefully designed erosion-control system.

When fully grown, the plants should absorb runoff, trap debris and keep pollutants out of the stream. But it also looks pretty neat, with new paving, bricks, greenery and interpretive signs.

“The neighbors are invested, now that it’s installed,” said Cullison, who arrived by bicycle for his regular watering duty. “They never came here before, but as soon as it was done, the families started hanging out.” The hose water also is courtesy of residents in homes along the street/parking lot behind the restaurant, he added. “This watering wouldn’t be possible without them and Buzz’s.”

Too much water moving too fast, however, was the challenge and focus of the retrofit project. Its goal is to demonstrate how new building techniques and technologies can be used to protect stream and ocean health. The five-week effort replaced about 6,000 square feet of dirt with interlocking pervious pavers to allow stormwater infiltration. Following that, native vegetation and small rain gardens were installed to help filter the polluted runoff before it enters the stream and passes under the bridge to the Kailua beach shoreline.

Before-and-after studies will show whether the project cuts the contamination that’s been detected in the stream. Cullison points out that the Kailua watershed and Kaelepulu Stream are high on the EPA priority list of “impaired water bodies.”

Partnering with his group were the young people who will inherit the results. Lanikai Elementary students, especially Cullison’s son’s class, helped by creating three interpretive signs that now stand on the mauka side of the bridge. Girls from Huakailani School placed three cigarette butt planters at the site to keep smokers from tossing them into the water.

Hui o Ko’olaupoko welcomes more volunteers to help with maintenance. To schedule a time, call Kristin at 381-7202.

Sponsors and donors to the project also include city, state and federal agencies, Futura Stone, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Hughes and Hughes Landscape Architects and Hui Ku Maoli Ola.