Judge: Sewage lawsuit against County of Maui may proceed
WAILUKU – Earlier this year, four Hawaii community groups filed suit under the national Clean Water Act, asking the Federal District Court to direct Maui County to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that would set limits on the pollutants that can be discharged from injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
Earthjustice filed the complaint in March on behalf of Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation, West Maui Preservation Association and Sierra Club-Maui Group.
This lawsuit against the County of Maui concerning the dumping of treated sewage water into underground wells followed years of unsuccessful efforts to resolve the issue out of court, the groups reported.
The county sought to have the case dismissed before it could be heard and considered by the court.
Last week Wednesday, the court denied the county’s request.
Earthjustice attorney Caroline Ishida said, “Improper disposal of sewage by the County of Maui is leaking out into the ocean, causing algae outbreaks across the reefs and damaging water quality.
“The algae smothers the coral and upsets the ecosystem, because fish and other marine animals depend on the reef for food and shelter,” she continued.
“Yesterday’s court ruling means our efforts to get this sewage dumping cleaned up and protect the ocean will finally have their day in court, for which we’re thankful.”
Each day, millions of gallons of treated wastewater are sent into the ground through injection wells at the Honokowai facility.
The groups contend that the wastewater contains pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous, bacteria and other pathogens in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
They believe the treated wastewater surfaces in the ocean makai of the plant, killing the coral reef and triggering outbreaks of invasive algae.
Maui County has been discharging partially treated sewage into injection wells at the West Side plant for 30 years.
Currently, three to five million gallons are sent down the wells each day.
In August 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it determined that the wastewater discharged into the underground injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility contains levels of coliform bacteria that could exceed federal standards protecting the drinking water aquifer.
EPA issued a compliance order requiring Maui County to monitor its injected effluent, improve disinfection of the treated wastewater within 30 days and install and operate an approved non-chlorine disinfection system by Dec. 31, 2013.
After December 2013, the injected wastewater may not exceed the R-1 level for fecal coliform.
R1 is the highest quality of reclaimed water specified in Hawaii State Regulations.