Court ruling could push county to get serious about injection wells
For decades, Maui County has sent millions of gallons of treated wastewater down injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Honokowai.
Finalized in 2013, the Lahaina Groundwater Tracer Study conclusively demonstrated that a hydrogeologic connection exists between LWRF’s Injection Wells 3 and 4 and the nearby coastal waters of West Maui.
Although heavily cleaned at the plant, the treated wastewater contains nitrogen, phosphorus and other chemical elements. And we’re talking about 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 gallons down into the ground every day.
The result? A more recent study found that pollution from the facility has drastically weakened local coral reefs nearby for more than ten years.
By increasing local seawater acidity and nutrient levels, the polluted water has instigated harmful bio-erosion and inhibited coral reef growth.
Injection well use is irresponsible and damaging to the environment. That’s why a recent Federal Appeals Court ruling didn’t go the county’s way.
The county last week reported: “The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Hawaii District Court’s summary judgment rulings that the County of Maui violated the Clean Water Act through its operation of injection wells a half-mile inland to dispose of excess recycled water. In so holding, the Court fashioned a new theory of liability, where any small fraction of pollutants that can be fairly traceable to a source triggers liability.
“In creating this new theory, the Court rejected both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s opinion as well as the plain text of the Clean Water Act itself. The County is reviewing the order.”
In its release, the county also provided an update on the LWRF. It is working on an alternative disposal method instead of using the injection wells as the primary source of disposal.
This alternative utilizes an existing reservoir located at the 800-foot elevation, and plans are to use existing pipeline infrastructure to pump the water up to this reservoir and utilize the excess recycled water for irrigation.
Detailing its efforts to aggressively pursue recycled water reuse as a primary goal in various county districts, the county noted, “These projects are not inexpensive to install and to operate; the energy costs of pumping water from place to place are very high and are dependent upon Council’s appropriation of sufficient budget.”
Fines are also expensive. It’s time for Maui County to get serious about ocean pollution and end the use of injection wells in West Maui.