Stop pollution of Maui coral reefs

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 2/27/2019 

The Clean Water Act (CWA), which took shape during the early 1970s, bans the dumping of pollutants directly into surface waters, ranging from wetlands and rivers to oceans. Whether the federal law’s prohibition also should apply to indirect dumping that has the same effect is a matter expected to go before the nation’s highest court later this year. 

At the center of the debate is Maui’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility, which injects a daily average of at least 3 million gallons of treated sewage into groundwater that flows toward the ocean. 

Last March, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Maui County has been violating the CWA since the facility’s operations started in the early 1980s. Maui County appealed to the Supreme Court; if it wins, the impacts for water pollution rules nationwide could be huge. 

That would be an unfortunate outcome: In Maui, the scientific evidence demonstrates that treated sewage dumped into injection wells is seeping into the ocean, killing coral and triggering algae blooms. 

In 2011, amid growing concerns about proliferating algae blooms that smother reefs and other degradation, University of Hawaii scientists initiated a tracer-dye study that conclusively linked treatment- plant discharge with tainted near-shore waters. And last year, U.S. Geological Survey research found that discharge from injection wells — positioned about a half-mile from the shoreline — has been drastically undermining the area for years. 

The 9th Circuit’s opinion against Maui rightly concluded: “At bottom, this case is about preventing the county from doing indirectly that which it cannot do directly.” Under federal law, a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is needed to dispose of the wastewater in ocean waters. 

In 2018, another appellate court interpreted the law in the opposite way. In a Kentucky case, pollutants from coal ash retention ponds seeped into groundwater that fed waterways. The 6th Circuit Court ruled that only pollutants added directly to navigable bodies of water are regulated under the law. 

The split in opinion helped pave the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the Maui case, in which the county asserts that because it’s not directly pouring pollutants into near-shore waters, no NPDES permit is needed. 

The county contends that from its perspective, West Maui’s coral is generally in healthy condition, with sites including Kahekili — downstream from the wastewater facility — tagged as “pristine.” The county maintains that groundwater regulation should be handled as a “home-rule” issue as pollution- related challenges vary from place to place. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, seems to support this take. And it’s a given that if the Supreme Court reverses the 9th Circuit’s ruling, supporters of President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back the Obama era’s stepped-up environmental regulation likely will cheer a perceived correction of federal overreach. 

But in this case, amid growing concerns tied to climate change and ocean acidification, weaker federal law would open a door to potentially accelerating pollutionrelated troubles here and elsewhere. That would be a step backward for environmental stewardship, but it’s a possibility due to the current makeup of the high court. 

Earthjustice, which is representing Maui community groups — Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club-Maui Group, Surfrider Foundation and West Maui Preservation — in the ongoing legal debate, has rightly pointed out that we could see industries quickly assuming effective free rein to discharge pollutants indirectly into the nation’s waterways. 

It’s disappointing that Maui is continuing to side-step the pollution problem. If politics prevails over science in a ruling from the Supreme Court, heightened vigilance in safeguarding Hawaii’s near-shore ecosystems from landbased sources of pollution will fall squarely on county and state governments. 

Lahaina Injection Wells Lawsuit: Enough Already! Just Fix the Problem

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser agrees – Enough already, Maui County! Stop trying to appeal the lawsuit and start fixing the problem!

 

Call/Email the Mayor & Maui Council Chair and say “ENOUGH ALREADY! Stop wasting the public’s money to defend illegal injection wells in West Maui. Spend the money instead on fixing the problem!”

Mayor Alan Arakawa
270-7855
Mayors.Office@co.maui.hi.us

Council Chair Mike White
270-5507
mike.white@mauicounty.us

 

Background: $3 million down the toilet – Enough Already!

The County paid a main land law firm $3 million to defend its actions of injecting treated wastewater into the ocean without proper state oversight. The County was joined in its fight by the Association of American Railroads, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Mining Association and the Fertilizer Institute.

The County lost the original court case but kept filing appeals – in total they’ve spent $3 million and lost all 4 times in court. Sierra Club Maui Group was one of 4 plaintiffs in the case, and just this month the County lost ANOTHER appeal.

The County COULD have used that money to build the infrastructure we need to support water recycling. Instead, now they’re talking about filing MORE appeals. Will this be another $3 million of public money down the toilet?

Call or email the mayor and council chair and say: Enough Already – Stop spending the public’s money on lawsuits and just fix the problem!

Campaign and meme from Tamara Paltin and http://www.savewestmaui.com
Mahalo!

Sign Petition: Fund reclaimed water infrastructure

Dear Maui County Mayor and Council,

We the undersigned urge you to dedicate sufficient funds in the upcoming budget to fund needed infrastructure at our wastewater plants to transport and store treated water for irrigation use wherever possible.

Our Maui Island Plan calls for phasing out of injection wells and the ocean pollution they cause by 2020. Please help us all meet this goal.

[emailpetition id=”3″]

Sierra Club Wins Lahaina Injection Sewage Lawsuit

Since the early 1990s, Maui County has been aware of a probable connection between the wastewater it injects into the ground below the Lahaina sewage treatment plant and the nearby coastal waters.

And for almost as long, it has clung to the position that despite growing evidence of the connection, it did not need to obtain the permit under the Clean Water Act that would allow it to legally discharge pollutants.

On May 30, the judge handed down a 59-page order that tossed out every argument the county made, leaving it potentially liable for many millions of dollars in fines. David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case on behalf of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club-Maui Group, the Surfrider Foundation, and the West Maui Preservation Association, said in a news release that the maximum penalties “already exceed $100 million, and the meter is ticking at a rate of over $100,000 per day.”

The County rejected a settlement offer that would have avoided fines and far less in remedial actions that would have been win-win.