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EPA welcomes comments on revised injection permit for wastewater plant

By Staff | Jun 4, 2009

HONOKOWAI — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposes that the county improve the quality of sewage treatment at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility (LWRF) and increase reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation.

EPA last week released for public comment a revised permit for county underground injection activities at the sewage treatment plant.

The Environmental Protection Agency revised the injection control permit from a prior proposal that was subject to public comments and a November 2008 hearing.

The agency will accept comments on the revised draft through June 23. EPA reported that it will consider all public comments, including those previously submitted, before making a final decision on the proposed permit.

Wayne Cochran said that at the November meeting with the EPA concerning LWRF’s permit renewal, the audience was 100 percent unanimous that the sewage treatment plant has to change.

“Injection wells put our reefs at risk. As a surf and dive shop owner, I know firsthand that reefs are good for our economy. Injection effluents can cause infections in ocean users. Also, injecting nitrates creates the invasive algae that is smothering our reefs and causing loss of fish habitats,” said Cochran.

“By injecting wastewater, we are creating a harmful situation and abusing the valuable resource of water, which even in the treated sewage form is much needed. Landscape irrigation, agriculture, dust and fire control are just a few of the uses that would free up streams and perhaps ease up the corporate water banking and hoarding that has put our island into constant drought mode.”

Cochran said the mayor and County Council must commit to phasing out injection wells, initiate “how-to studies” and agree on a timetable to update the system.

“We could have easily used monies from the federal stimulus program if county government had wisdom to do this. We want good solutions that are positive for our culture, environment and economy. This is a win, win, win situation for all,” Cochran commented.

The revised draft permit, related documents and public testimony can be found on the EPA Region 9 website at http://www.epa.gov/region09/water/groundwater/uic-permits.html.

This proposed ten-year permit would renew authorization for the County of Maui to operate four injection wells at the LWRF located near the intersection of Honoapiilani Highway and Lower Honoapiilani Road.

The county owns and operates the facility that provides secondary treatment to domestic wastewater.

LWRF disposes of 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 gallons per day of the treated wastewater into the ground through the gravity-fed injection wells.

The facility reclaims one million gallons per day (mgd) of treated wastewater and sends it for reuse by a nearby golf course, pineapple company and construction contractors. This wastewater is reclaimed to state R-1 quality by adding ultraviolet disinfection.

R-1 quality means the wastewater is sufficiently filtered and disinfected of bacteria and viruses for it to be used safely to water areas frequented by people.

To ensure adequate disinfection of the injectate, protect groundwater quality and the coastal environment, and promote water reuse, EPA is proposing a permit condition to require by Dec. 31, 2011, that all injection fluid at the West Side facility be treated to R-1 standards by non-chlorine disinfection.

The proposed permit’s Statement of Basis notes, “… since the LWRF was initially constructed as a reclamation facility, using federal grant money, EPA finds it appropriate to place reasonable conditions in the permit that will shift practices at LWRF from injection to higher levels of reuse.”

The injection rate limits in the existing permit, based on the maximum treatment capacity of the plant, are set at an average injection rate to not exceed 9.0 mgd for any calendar week, and a maximum injection rate to not exceed 19.8 mgd for any one day.

EPA is proposing a change from these maximum capacities to an average injection rate of 7 mgd for any calendar week and a maximum rate of 10 mgd for any one day. EPA feels the county can meet these injection rates, based on LWRF’s operating flows for the past four-and-a-half years.

The agency also proposes conditions in the draft permit to reduce total nitrogen and minimize pathogens in the injected effluent.
To track the county’s compliance with the new conditions, the proposed permit requires additional monitoring and reporting.

DIRE (Don’t Inject REdirect) is an island-wide group of concerned Maui citizens with knowledge in ecology. DIRE members commented at the EPA hearing in November based on their expertise, such as wastewater reuse, EPA regulations and ocean pollution.

“As a group, DIRE’s concern is that the proposed EPA permit is incomplete and further revision is needed. We recognize that the Lahaina permit will set a precedence for Kihei and Kahului. Our goal is to educate the public on wastewater reuse and ocean pollution issues, so that an informed public can add their comments to the EPA permit process,” said DIRE member Eve Clute, a freelance writer for the Lahaina News.

The injection wells range in depth from 180 to 255 feet, located 1,500 to 1,900 feet from the shoreline at an elevation of about 30 feet.

EPA believes that the injectate will not impact any public or private drinking water wells located uphill from the plant. The nearest well is about 2.4 miles away at an elevation of around 900 feet.

The public is invited to make comments and recommendations on the draft permit renewal and the county’s permit renewal application. All comments must be received or postmarked by June 23, 2009, and must be in writing — e-mail is acceptable — to be considered.   

Liz Foote of Project S.E.A.-Link and the Coral Reef Alliance said “it’s encouraging to see the results of public awareness and participation regarding this particular issue. I think that’s the ‘take home message’ — citizen action CAN make a difference!”

Foote said a new website, Hawaii EcoTube (http://hawaiiecotube.blogspot.com/), gives the community a chance to submit photos, links and stories on local environmental issues, both positive and negative, to initiate dialog and hopefully spur positive action.

Mail comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ground Water Office (WTR-9), 75 Hawthorne St., San Francisco, CA 94105, Attn.: Nancy Rumrill; fax to (415) 947-3549; or e-mail rumrill.nancy@epa.gov.