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EPA takes testimony on West Maui injection wells

By Staff | Aug 27, 2009

LAHAINA — Two public hearings have been held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine the conditions for the county’s renewal permit for four injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Honokowai. The first public hearing was held in November 2008, and the second was last week Thursday at Lahaina Civic Center.

EPA made a preliminary determination to approve the Class V UIC (underground injection control) permit for the County of Maui to operate four injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility for ten years.

During the informational portion of the meeting, EPA  attorney Brett Moffatt explained the conditions of the revised permit: “EPA has made a preliminary determination that the injection of treated wastewater allowed under the revised draft permit is protective of underground sources of drinking water, as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“The draft permit contains new requirements for biochemical oxygen demand and suspended solids that are the same as the conditions imposed by the State of Hawaii Department of Health, a reduction in the injection volumetric rate limits and a nitrate concentration limit. The draft permit also imposes new mass loading limits for total nitrogen, which become more stringent over the course of the ten-year permit term, and a requirement for the injection fluid to be treated to the same level as the reuse wastewater by a future compliance date.”

In a major development, on May 22, 2009, Mayor Charmaine Tavares announced, “Our goal is to use all of the water that’s produced by our treatment plants and not put it down any injection wells. That’s our goal.”

The mayor testified, “I personally feel that injecting treated wastewater is a waste of a resource that we could use more productively. I am proposing to dovetail the production of algae as a fuel source with the need to redirect nitrogen-rich treated wastewater to a new use. The algae would be harvested and processed to produce transportation fuel. Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island have algae pilot projects either ongoing or soon to commence. An algae energy project will move us closer to renewable energy sustainability, and at the same time, reduce our need to place treated wastewater into injection wells.

“I request that the EPA consider a five-year extension of the UIC Permit to operate the Lahaina injection wells. This will give my administration time to formulate a plan for the reduction of injected wastewater.”

Following the mayor’s testimony, 24 residents and agency members from Lahaina to Haiku testified. Each testifier supported the two main points of the mayor’s testimony: reduce the amount of sewage effluent that goes into the injection wells, and limit the permit to five years instead of ten.

DIRE (Don’t Inject Redirect) spokesman and Kula resident Jeff Schwartz asked that the EPA withhold the permit renewal until the county obtains a valid Clean Water Act NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit “for its indirect discharges from the injection wells into the ocean in Lahaina.”

“DIRE coalition is a group of Maui County residents, visitors and organizations who seek to protect the county’s reefs, public health and economy by urging the county to phase out wastewater injection wells, improve wastewater treatment, and reclaim and reuse properly treated wastewater on land for a variety of beneficial uses,” he explained.

Haiku resident Hannah J. Bernard, president of the Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, said, “Nearly one year ago, we stood before you to voice our opposition to the ten-year renewal… and millions of gallons of wastewater, nutrients and pathogens have continued to flow into the injection well and leach into the groundwater, which will eventually reach the ocean.”

Bernard recommended to “redirect our wastewater from injection wells and treat it as a resource rather than a waste-product which currently pollutes our nearshore environment.”

Teri Leonard, a scuba instructor in Kihei, reported, “Scientific evidence gathered by the University of Hawaii and the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) clearly indicates that pollutants and contaminants entering the ocean from injection wells are having a direct effect on the health of the Maui coral reef system.”

Russell Sparks spoke on behalf of DLNR’s Aquatics Division: “The reefs are collapsing on themselves, and there has been a 50 percent decline in reefs since 1994. We do not expect the reefs to come back.”

Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow and a Kahului resident, asked for “more effective disinfection of pathogens. Effective ground and ocean water quality and bio-impact monitoring and public reporting, and development, within one year, of a detailed plan for design, financing and construction of necessary treatment upgrade and wastewater reuse facilities.”

Darla White, a University of Hawaii coral reef researcher and diver who works underwater at Kahekili Beach Park in Kaanapali, testified that she has had MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) seven times.

 “This is a nasty infection, and many of my fellow researchers are getting sick after being in the ocean,” White concluded.

Lahaina resident Andrew Lehmann has been surfing between Launiupoko and Kaanapali for years. “My staph infections have been getting worse over the past five years,” he commented.

“When I went to Australia to surf, I had no staph infections. Within two weeks of returning to surfing in West Maui, I got staph from a little cut on my foot. My whole leg swelled up,” he remarked.

Makawao resident and biologist Dr. Tony Povilitis stated, “Right now, leadership for phasing out harmful wastewater injection wells on Maui and for shifting to nonpolluting water treatment and reuse is coming from the local government, citizens, scientists and nonprofit groups deeply concerned about the threats posed by injection wells to our coral reefs and public health. Ironically, it is not coming from the federal agency whose job it is to protect and enhance our environment. How’s that? Regardless, let the people lead and, hopefully, the EPA will follow.”

Mayor Tavares stayed until the end of the meeting and shared in a small group that she will meet with U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye to discuss the county’s share of federal economic stimulus money. The county has requested grant money for 52 shovel-ready projects, including improvements to the Lahaina, Kihei and Kahului sewage treatment plants.

Public testimony regarding the Lahaina injection wells can be e-mailed to EPA Project Manager Nancy Rumrill at rumrill.nancy@epamail.epa.gov until Sept. 21, 2009.