The City Wants to Use This Water Wheel to Rid the Ala Wai Canal of Trash

Eco-groups move forward with plans to clean up the Ala Wai.
Trash is directed onto the conveyor belt of Baltimore’s water wheel by natural currents and a boom.
Photo: Courtesy of Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore


Picture a vintage Mark Twain-esque water wheel slowly churning in the Ala Wai Canal while an old man in overalls plays the banjo in sync with chirping crickets. More like a young guy playing an ‘ukulele, but close enough. If all goes according to plan, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi and other partners may be installing the water wheel with a conveyor belt that scoops rubbish out of the infamously dirty canal by mid-2018.


SEE ALSO: It Came From the Ala Wai: 6 Strange Creatures That Thrive in Waikiki’s Sewage Filled Canal


The wheel will be strategically placed to take advantage of tradewinds that will naturally blow surface trash into the water wheel’s boom. The trash will then be directed to a slowly churning conveyor belt powered by the water wheel—and solar power when the current is not fast enough—that lifts the trash out of the Ala Wai and into a dumpster.


Trash collects on the surface of the Ala Wai Canal.
Trash collects on the surface of the Ala Wai Canal.


The wheel will not consume the entire width of the Ala Wai, though it will restrict the two-lane traffic to one lane, which is bound to cause a few groans from Ala Wai veterans. Hopefully the prospect of a cleaner waterway—and cleaner oceans—will stave any serious resistance from the paddling community.


“It really depends on us being able to fund the crowd-funded campaign to get the feasability study done,” says Kahi Pacarro, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi. The current campaign, which started on July 6, has already raised more than $2,000 of the $5,000 needed to conduct a feasability study for the project.


“Once the feasability study is done, we get the green light,” says Pacarro. “We contact local contractors, hit up the city and state, hopefully private funding and hotels as well. Everything has been favorable toward it.”


While the feasability study is intended to hash out the details of the project, a similar water wheel named Mr. Trash Wheel—complete with larger-than-life googley eyes and its own Twitter account—has pulled more than 400 tons of trash from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor since May 2014.


Solar panels on Baltimore’s water wheel help power the conveyor belt when currents are too slow.
Photo: Courtesy of Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore


The wheel is expected to cost $900,000—the City Council has already allocated $350,000, and a grant-in-aid is expected to bring state funding. Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi, along with partners the Surfrider Foundation and 808Cleanups, is going to reach out to the federal government, local business and the community for the remainder once the project is greenlighted.