Lahaina Wastewater Injection Wells & the Clean Water Act

3-5 million gallons.

That is how much partially treated sewage Maui County has pumped into Maui’s groundwater through injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility EVERY DAY for over 30 YEARS.

(Left) Kahekili reefs before pollution from Lahaina Reclamation Facility (Right) Coral die off and algae blooms take over Kahekili reefs after pollution from the facility

The polluted groundwater then flows into the ocean near Kahekili Beach. The water quality and coral reef health has been degraded greatly from being exposed to this much pollution for so long—the coral cover of the reefs at Kahekili, one of the most popular snorkeling spots on Maui, has decreased by over 40%.

The Sierra Club Maui Group, Surfrider Foundation, Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund and West Maui Preservation Association, have been fighting for decades to stop this pollution. After years of attempting to resolve the issue outside of the court, the community groups filed a lawsuit in 2012 under the Clean Water Act to stop Maui County from discharging wastewater without a permit.

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. This case has now reached the United States Supreme Court and is threatening to strip vital protections from the Clean Water Act. 

Tell The Mayor To Join The Council In Withdrawing The Supreme Court Appeal

Talk story on why Maui County should settle the Injection Well Case

Crossroads: June 25, 2019 from Akakū Maui Community Media on Vimeo.

$4.3 million.

That is how much Maui County has paid to mainland lawyers to fight the law since 2012.

Through this legal battle, the County has insisted that any ocean pollution through underground dumping is exempt from the law. They have wasted millions of dollars that could have been spent towards upgrading the Lahaina facility and squandered numerous opportunities to settle the case. 

[Update]: In May 2019, the Maui County Council Committee on Governance, Ethics, and Transparency (GET) considered whether the County should take the most recently offered settlement agreement. After deliberation the vote was deadlocked 4-4 and the measure stalled in committee. The GET committee could consider the settlement again. Mahalo to councilmembers Kelly King, Keani Rawlins-Ferdandez, Shane Sinenci and Tamara Paltin for voting to settle the case.

Degraded coral reefs at Kahekili Beach Park. Photo: USGS

A win for Maui County could mean the gutting of the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act is the bedrock legal protection of clean water for the entire nation since its enactment in 1972 during the Nixon Administration. The purpose of the law was to “protect and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” 

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 is arguing that the law does not apply to any pollution sent into the ground.

Maui County is not alone in hoping for a win in the Supreme Court. The County’s allies, in addition to the Trump Administration, include a who’s who of polluting industries—the oil and gas industry, the pipeline industry, the mining industry, the manufacturing industry—including 13 republican senators and right-wing property organizations. They are all banning together in hopes of a free pass to pollute the environment and local communities for convenience and quick profits.

So who is backing protection of the Clean Water Act, and who is backing the County in asking to be able to dump into the ocean without a permit?

Want to learn more about the issue at hand? Check out this “Sea Talk” by David Henkin, one of the lead attorneys from Earthjustice on this case and get a comprehensive explanation.

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