Hawaiʻi has some of the cleanest beach water in the nation, according to the new “Testing the Waters” report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which recently ranked Hawaiʻi’s water quality seventh in the nation. The environmental non-profit analyzed water samples at more than 3,000 beaches in 30 states.

About four percent of total Hawaiʻi samples exceeded bacterial standards set by the state Department of Health (DOH). Not all beaches are tested, however. Among those that are, 17 percent of samples taken at Malaekahana, Sunset and Waimea Bay had the highest rates on Oahu.

Only two percent of Oahu and Maui beaches exceeded the limits, as compared with 9 percent on Kauaʻi and 4 percent on the Big Island. Hanalei Beach Park and Kalihiwai Bay, both on the North Shore of Kauaʻi, had the highest percentage of non-compliant samples in the state.

So are oceangoers safe? Yes, if we know when to stay out of the water. The DOH does not have authority to close beaches. However, it can post on-site warnings and issue brown water advisories when waters are contaminated with sewage spills or storm runoff. The number of warning/advisory days in Hawaiʻi increased 11 percent between 2010 and 2011, according to the NRDC. On Oahu, advisories were issued for Banzai, ʻEhukai Beach Park, Pupukea, Sunset, Turtle Bay, Waialeʻe, Kaunala, Kawela and Kuilima on 25 separate days in 2011.

NRDC created the project to bring attention to polluted waters across the nation as the federal Environmental Protection Agency moves to revise its beach water safety standards. NRDC claims the standards are too lax because they would allow 1 in 28 swimmers to become ill from pathogens in the water. The organization is also pushing the EPA and states to tighten up standards for polluted runoff, the primary cause of beach closures. Visit [nrdc.org]s.