A brief overview on the Injection Well issue:
Countless water bodies—streams, rivers, lakes and nearshore waters across the country—are being threatened by a single wastewater treatment plant on Maui, Hawaiʻi.
For nearly 10 years, community groups on Maui, including the Sierra Club, have been working hard to stop Maui County’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility from dumping 3-5 million gallons of partially treated sewage every day into groundwater injection wells, which sends the pollution into the ocean just offshore of one of the most popular beaches on the island. Time and time again, courts have ruled in favor of clean water, affirming that Maui County has violated the Clean Water Act for over 30 years. Yet, instead of upgrading its wastewater facility and investing in water reuse, Maui County has fought to strip vital protections from U.S. waters.
Soon, this case will be in front of the U.S. Supreme Court if we don’t get our County Council to vote on Settling this case!
Dirty industries—like fracking, industrial agriculture, and coal mining—across the country are watching and supporting Maui County because a ruling in their favor would mean that polluters are free to contaminate our nation’s water bodies as long as they release their waste into a pipe in the ground, no matter where that pollution goes. One wastewater treatment plant in Hawaiʻi is not worth gutting the Clean Water Act.
The Obama Administration supported the Clean Water Act regulation of this wastewater treatment plant but the Trump Administration has reversed this position—and for the first time in any Democratic or Republican administration since the Clean Water Act was established in 1972—is arguing that the law does not apply to any pollution sent into the ground. Maui County has aligned itself with the Trump Administration and the nation’s worst corporate polluters and opponents of environmental protections. We need voices from across the country to join together and call on Hawai‘i leaders to stand up for our nation’s waters and the law that protects them.
Take a stand today for the protection of your local water bodies across the country and the nearshore waters of Maui. We are asking you to contact the Maui Co. Council and Mayor to unite in support of fixing the pollution from the Lahaina plant, withdrawing the case from the Supreme Court, and safeguarding the nation’s waters.
Take action and please sign the letter below to the Mayor and the County Council.
A talk story discussion on why Maui County should settle the Injection Well Case Here:
Further Info and FAQ coming soon!
Stop pollution of Maui coral reefs
CLEAN WATER ACT
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.
Copyright (c)2019 Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Edition 2/27/2019
WHEREAS, the County of Maui’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility has for decades used injection wells to dispose of its treated wastewater, sending millions of gallons a day of polluted water into the ocean just offshore of Kahekili Beach; and
WHEREAS, peer-reviewed government and university scientific studies, as well as decades of direct kama‘āina experience, have confirmed that water pollution from the Lahaina facility has degraded the ocean and reef environment at Kahekili Beach, creating dead zones where the pollution enters the ocean; and
WHEREAS, in a legal case brought under the federal Clean Water Act, Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund et al. v. County of Maui, both the U.S. District Court, District of Hawai‘i and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have ruled that the Clean Water Act prohibits the pollution discharges from the Lahaina facility without a permit; and
WHEREAS, the Clean Water Act is the bedrock legal protection of clean water for the entire nation, which was passed by overwhelming majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and
U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Nixon in 1972; and
WHEREAS, under previous leadership, the County has resisted any regulation of the pollution from the Lahaina facility under the Clean Water Act, arguing that any pollution of the ocean from the injection wells is exempt from the law; and
WHEREAS, the County has so far spent over $4 million paying mainland lawyers to fight its legal battle against the Clean Water Act, rather than using the money to pay for solutions such as investing in water reuse to meet community water needs for agriculture and landscaping; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Supreme Court, which includes two new conservative justices appointed by the Trump Administration, has granted the County’s request to hear its appeal; and
WHEREAS, the supporters of the County’s appeal to the Supreme Court include polluting industries, Republican-dominated states and counties, right-wing property rights organizations, and other opponents of environmental protections; and
WHEREAS, the Trump Administration urged the Supreme Court to take up the County’s appeal and has taken the position that the Clean Water Act excludes any and all pollution that reaches our nation’s surface waters through groundwater, contradicting decades of practice by prior Democratic and Republican administrations.
WHEREAS, if the County’s appeal proceeds to briefing, a hearing, and a ruling, the Supreme Court could issue an opinion that restricts and undermines the Clean Water Act’s protections across the nation, which would be a stain on the County’s reputation and an undesirable outcome overall; and
WHEREAS, with the election of a new mayor and council, the County has a golden opportunity to turn a new page, stop its attack on the Clean Water Act, focus on proactive solutions instead of counterproductive litigation, and lead the way on protecting, rather than polluting, the waters of Maui and the nation.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Democratic Party of Maui that the County of Maui is urged to withdraw its appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court and instead focus on proactive, collaborative, and constructive solutions to reduce and control pollution from the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility and promote beneficial and necessary water reuse.