Ideas for Solo Hiking – Near Central Maui

In April 2020 we are required to keep a distance from people outside of our own household to slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 and to allow our health and other services to take care of those who need help. Sierra Club has therefor canceled all organized outings until further notice. But we are still allowed to venture out on our own or with members of our own household for exercise such as walking, running, hiking, swimming and surfing. No need to stay cooped up at home all day. Just keep at least six feet between yourself and anyone you meet. This is the third of several posts on good places to go hiking/walking without a guide.


The Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge is a wonderful place to hike and explore, easy to get to from Central Maui. If it wasn’t for the current “social distancing” restrictions, it would be an excellent place for a picnic and spending the day as well. The refuge is open to the public.

Here is some information from the Hawaian Islands Land Trust (HILT), the custodians of the refuge:

Once slated for development as a golf course, the Waihe’e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge protects over 24 acres of coastal, spring-fed wetland, 103 acres of dune ecosystem, over 7000 feet of marine shoreline and more than 8 acres of riparian habitat for the recovery of native birds and native vegetation. The Land Trust took fee ownership of this very sensitive 277-acre site in 2004. Active restoration programs have enhanced critical native wildlife habitat, while preserving the area’s rich archaeological and cultural resources. Once populated with two thriving ancient Hawaiian villages, an extensive inland fishpond and several heiau (Hawaiian temples), the Waihee Refuge is among the most significant cultural sites in the state.

The Hawaiian Island Land Trust (HILT) aims to restore the Waihe’e Refuge to reflect the cultural and natural state it would have been in 200 years ago. This vision requires a lot of labor intensive work; when HILT (formerly Maui Coastal Land Trust) acquired the Waihe’e Refuge, roughly 95% of the plants found on the site were considered to be invasive species.

Restoring the Waihe’e Refuge to its historical, natural state will encourage native plants to take hold of the site again, thereby enhancing the natural resilience of the system. A healthy, more resilient landscape could buffer the impacts of climate change better than a damaged landscape could. The wetland is now up to 70% native species and native plants and birds have begun to naturally repopulate the surrounding landscape.

In testament to the returning health of the ecosystem, eight different endangered species have taken up residence at the Refuge in recent years. With the wetlands primarily cleared and habitat-appropriate plants now thriving, the area is host to many native Hawaiian bird species, including ae‘o (stilt), alae ke‘oke‘o (coot), koloa (duck), and even nene (goose).
Quiet and pristine, the Waihe‘e shoreline is a favorite retreat for endangered Hawaiian monk seals and nesting green sea turtles. Off the coast, the extensive reef is one of the longest and widest on Maui. It’s believed that this reef system provided excellent fishing in ancient times and it is, in fact, still a favorite among local fishermen today.

Parking for the refuge is either on the grass next to the refuge entrance or in the beach parking lot next to it. To get there, take Halewalu Road from Kahekili Highway. Halewalu Road leads to the Waiehu Golf Course and there are signs at the turnoff for both the golf course and the refuge. After 0.4 miles the turnoff from Halewalu Road to the refuge is on the left side. There is a sign. The road ends after 0.2 miles with the refuge entrance on the left and beach parking on the right.

This map shows a hike of 2.6 miles round-trip on level ground:

https://bit.ly/waihee-dunes

After entering the refuge, after 1,000 feet you will arrive at a fork in the trail. The old dairy is on the right and there is a map and interesting information about the refuge to read here. You can continue straight at this point, parallel to and close to the ocean, or you can take a detour off to the left as in the map. The detour takes you past areas where volunteers have been working on planting native Hawaiian plants and then rejoins the coastal trail. Either way, you will continue along the coastline until you reach the mouth of the Waihe‘e River. That is the turning point.

Coming back along the coastal trail, you can opt to walk for a stretch on the round rocks on the beach before continuing on the trail back to the parking area.

There has been very little trash the last few times I have been there, but please bring a bag just in case. The area most likely to have washed up plastic debris is the last beach before getting back to the parking area.

West Maui Reefs Horribly Degraded

These underwater pictures from the reef off of Kahekili Beach Park show the extent of the damage suffered in the last several years. Runoff, global warming and El Nino events have added to the attack on this precious and irreplaceable resource, but a significant contributor is the release of treated wastewater high in nitrogen and phosphorous through the Lahaina injection wells. These “nutrients” stimulate the growth of algae that smother the corals.

Despite the scientific studies showing the damage and decline in the coral reef off of Kahekili Beach Park, along with what everyone using that shoreline area can see with their own eyes, Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino made a press release August 28, 2019 which said:

“West Maui ocean water quality has improved since 2009, …,” Perry said. “If ocean conditions were negatively impacted by recycled water seeping into the ocean from the injection wells, then reef conditions would continue to deteriorate. They have not.”

All photos courtesy of Caitlin Maratea, owner of Banyan Tree Divers in Lahaina.

 

Citizens Deliver Petitions Urging Maui County to Settle Lahaina Injection Well Case

For immediate release: Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Contact: Mahesh Cleveland, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436 x6621

Citizens Deliver Petitions Urging Maui County to Settle Lahaina Injection Well Case

 

Wailuku, Maui, HI — Today, Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation, with support from Hawaii Wildlife Fund and West Maui Preservation Association, delivered two petitions to Maui County Council Chair Kelly King. The petitions, signed by over 15,000 Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation members nationwide, urges the Maui County government to settle the legal case involving its Lahaina wastewater treatment plant and withdraw its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

The four community groups, represented by Earthjustice, filed a complaint with the Hawaii Federal District Court in 2012, alleging that Maui County was in violation of the Clean Water Act for its injection well discharges of municipal wastewater into the Pacific Ocean just offshore of Kahekili Beach Park in West Maui. The District Court agreed, and its decision was unanimously upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the case is before the Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled for November 6, 2019. The County has allied with the Trump Administration in claiming that the pollution of the ocean via groundwater is exempt from the Clean Water Act.  

“This case is being closely and eagerly watched by some of the worst polluters in the country,” says Earthjustice attorney Mahesh Cleveland. “The loophole the County seeks would allow industrial and municipal polluters to evade regulation under the Clean Water Act simply by moving their discharges just short of the shores of navigable waters, or disposing of pollutants via groundwater. A Supreme Court ruling in the County’s favor would have serious negative impacts on water quality nationwide.”

The citizen group plaintiffs, who urged the County to address the pollution at Kahekili Beach for four years before finally filing the 2012 citizen’s suit to enforce the law, still hope the County will address the problem locally at home, without pushing to create dangerous national precedent at the Supreme Court.

“We’re asking the County to fix this problem and give our reefs a chance to recover,” said Hannah Bernard, Executive Director of Hawaii Wildlife Fund. “The County’s refusal to protect an ecosystem in our backyard could jeopardize public health and clean water across the country. But it’s not too late for the County to do the right thing.”

The Sierra Club petition, signed by over 13,000 members across the United States, calls on Maui County to settle the case instead of pursuing the Supreme Court appeal, warning that “one wastewater treatment plant in Hawaii is not worth gutting the Clean Water Act.” The Surfrider petition, signed by another 2,547 citizens, asks the County government to “settle the Lahaina Injection Well Lawsuit and work with the community to find alternative long-term solutions that will protect Maui’s reefs and beaches, and ensure continued protections under the Clean Water Act for all Americans.”

The petitions, delivered this morning to County Council Chair King at her office in Wailuku, come in advance of a Council committee hearing scheduled for next Tuesday, September 3, when it is expected that the committee will hear testimony and vote on a resolution to settle the case and withdraw the appeal.

“The County’s claim that it can lawfully use groundwater as a sewer to carry millions of gallons of polluted wastewater from the Lahaina injection wells to the ocean each day is absurd,” said David Henkin, the lead Earthjustice attorney representing the community groups. “As both the Hawaiʻi district court and the Ninth Circuit have already concluded, the Clean Water Act flatly prohibits such threats to our nation’s waters. If need be, we will present this compelling case to the Supreme Court in November, but it shouldn’t have to come to that. The County still has time to change course and focus on solutions, rather than more litigation.”

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Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm.  The Hawaiʻi regional office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, Native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawaii and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services.

Lahaina Injection Wells Frequently Asked Questions

What You Always Wanted To Know About The Lahaina Wastewater Injection Wells Case

1. The County Releases Wastewater Into The Ocean?

After pressure from the community and from the EPA, the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility (LWRF) disinfects the wastewater with ultra-violet light to kill bacteria that are harmful to people. However, the resulting effluent is high in nitrogen, phosphorous and other chemicals that are harmful to the coral reef and to ocean life.

2. The Treated Wastewater Doesn’t Stay In The Injection Wells?

The treated wastewater is mostly dumped into large, unlined basins called “injection wells”. The EPA traced the path of the wastewater from the injection wells and proved definitively in a study published in 2013 that about half the effluent finds its way into the ocean at Kahekili Beach Park.

3. How Much Wastewater Are We Talking About?

While some treated wastewater is used for irrigation, 3-5 million gallons/day are dumped into the injection wells at the LWRF.

4. How Bad Can It Be To Release Treated Wastewater Into The Ocean?

A US Geological Survey study of the effects of the wastewater release on the coral reef at Kahekili Beach Park, published in 2017, reported that “sustained, nutrient rich, lower pH submarine groundwater discharging onto nearshore coral reefs off west Maui lowers the pH of seawater and exposes corals to nitrate concentrations 50 times higher than ambient. Rates of coral calcification are substantially decreased, and rates of bioerosion are orders of magnitude higher than those observed in coral cores collected in the Pacific under equivalent low pH conditions”.

5. Seriously, Can You See The Difference In The Coral?

From 1994 to 2006, coral cover at the Kahekili Marine Reserve declined by 40%.

6. Fixing the Problem Must Be a Top Priority for the County?

Community and environmental organizations urged the County to address the problems for many years but the discussions did not lead to tangible changes or commitments. In 2012, the community and environmental organizations filed suit against the County under the Clean Water Act (CWA), which requires that a special permit – NPDES – be acquired if pollutants are to be released into the ocean. Both the Hawai‘i-based district court and the Ninth Circuit appeals court have ruled in favor of clean water, ruling that the County cannot freely pollute the ocean via injection wells and are required to get a permit under the Clean Water Act. Yet Maui County has spent $4.3 million in taxpayer money to fight the law, money that could have been used for water reuse to keep the contaminated water off of West Maui’s reefs.

7. Why Are the Trump Administration And The Major US Polluters Supporting The County On This Issue?

Having lost in all court hearings so far, the County is taking the case to the Supreme Court rather than settling the affair and addressing the problem with the threat to the reefs and ocean life. The Trump EPA has been aggessively weakening or removing dozens of long-standing protections of our air, land and waters. Allowing the fossil fuel companies to dump toxic waste into the ground near rivers, lakes or oceans would save them money but harm the health of people, plants and animals who depend on safe and clean water.

8. If The County Gets An NPDES Permit, Will I Have To Get One Too?

The County claims that if it has to get a permit to release 3-5 million gallons/day of treated wastewater into the ocean, then 12,000 cess pool owners on Maui will also have to get an NPDES permit. However, individual properties are not regulated through NPDES permits, which are intended for industrial scale polluters like coal-fired power plants. The Hawaii Department of Health has also explicitly clarified that they will not require NPDES permits of cess pool owners.

9. What Are The Plaintiffs Asking Of The County?

The Sierra Club Maui Group, Surfrider Foundation, Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund and West Maui Preservation Association – the organizations that sued the County – want the County to settle the case as agreed on in 2015, putting at least $2.5M towards diverting and reusing the wastewater and completing its application for an NPDES.

10. What Are The Downsides To Settling The Lahaina Injection Wells Case?

There are no downsides, only benefits, to settling the case and putting the money into solving the problem instead through better processing of the wastewater and then reusing it for irrigation in West Maui. The reefs win, the residents and visitors who enjoy the waters of West Maui win, the County wins in reputation as a leader in ocean protection rather than a destroyer of reefs.

11. Will It Cost $800M To Fix The Problem?

Mayor Victorino has said that it will cost $800M to eliminate the ocean pollution. The number was composed by adding up several fantasy numbers: $125M each to build “ocean outfalls” for all wastewater facilities on Maui (this is something no one wants or needs), huge numbers for fines and penalties (there won’t be any, other than the $2.5M in the settlement to spend on wastewater handling improvements + $100k fine to the federal government), and some exaggerated numbers for the actual work to be done. The mayor says he is “committed to 100% reuse” of the wastewater; that means he knows that it will not cost $800M to do it.

12. What Is Happening Now With The Case?

The Maui County Council voted on 9/20 to settle the case. The decision was in the form of a “resolution”, something that only requires a single vote. It cannot be “vetoed” by the mayor. However, the mayor is balking at his constitutional responsibility to tell Corporation Counsel to execute the settlement and withdraw the case from the Supreme Court. Corporation Counsel is refusing to withdraw the case, acting as advocates for the Trump administration instead of as advisers to their clients, the County Council.