Scientific Study Proves Maui County Wastewater Discharges Endanger Nearshore Water Quality

County’s sewage injections traced to West Maui coastal waters

Lahaina, HI — Scientists from the University of Hawai‘i have released a final study vindicating the concerns of Maui citizen groups that sued Maui County last year under the federal Clean water Act and state water quality laws for illegally discharging wastewater into the ocean from its Lahaina treatment facility’s injection wells.

For 30 years, the County has been dumping wastewater from its Lahaina facility into injection wells that connect underground to the ocean. In April 2012, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in federal district court on behalf of Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club-Maui Group, and West Maui Preservation Association, charging that the wastewater, containing nutrient pollution, pharmaceuticals, and until a federal consent decree forced the County to disinfect, bacteria and other pathogens, was making its way into the ocean near popular Kahekili Beach, endangering the public, contributing to algal growth, and harming the sensitive coral reef ecosystem.

In July 2011, University of Hawai‘i researchers put dye into the injection wells to trace the wastewater’s path to the coast. A few months later, they detected the dye flowing out of seeps in nearshore waters at Kahekili Beach. The study analyzed the results of scientific monitoring in that area over the past two years, and “confirms that a hydrogeologic connection exists” between the injection wells and nearshore waters. It concluded that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the injected wastewater reaches coastal waters via submarine springs, which discharge pollutants that “impact coastal water quality and result in elevated nutrient concentrations.” The study also found that the wastewater coming out of the seeps is warmer, more acidic, and less salty than surrounding ocean water.

The groups are currently involved in settlement talks with the County to find a way to protect nearshore West Maui water quality and coral reefs from the illegal wastewater discharges.

The groups commented as follows:
Caroline Ishida, Earthjustice attorney:
“This study confirms what we’ve been saying for years: wastewater injected at the Lahaina facility travels underground and ends up in the ocean offshore of Kahekili Beach, contributing pollutants to nearshore waters. We’re currently engaged in settlement talks with Maui County, trying to come up with a solution to this problem as quickly as possible.”

Hannah Bernard, Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund:
“This independent, expert report validates our longstanding concerns about the connection between the County’s injection wells and the ocean. There is no longer any room for debate that the Lahaina injection wells are discharging volumes of nutrients and other pollutants into the reef off Kahekili Beach, highlighting the urgent need to put an end to these discharges.”

Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation:
“Kahekili Beach is a popular area for swimming, snorkeling, and other recreation in West Maui, but this study shows that the injection wells discharge nutrients and other pollutants into the shallow, nearshore waters, which degrades water quality. We look forward to coming up with a solution that reduces this pollution for the benefit of everyone that uses these waters.”

Lucienne deNaie, Sierra Club – Maui Group:
“None of us has a crystal ball that can show us what impacts climate change and ocean acidification will ultimately have on our reefs. We need to solve the injection well problem to eliminate a source of pollution to our nearshore waters that we do have control over.”

Lance Collins, West Maui Preservation Association:
“The studies are done. Now is the time to act to stop and reverse the damage to the nearshore waters of Kahekili Beach.”
Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Mid-Pacific 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 Hawai‘i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services. For more information, visit

Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund is a Hawai‘i non-profit corporation based on Maui that is committed to the protection of Hawai‘i’s native wildlife through research, education and conservation. For more information, visit

Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization founded in 1984 that is dedicated to the protection of oceans, waves and beaches. For more information, visit

Sierra Club-Maui Group, a member group of the national Sierra Club, raises awareness of environmental issues and works towards preserving the environment on the island of Maui. For more information, visit

West Maui Preservation Association, founded in 2004, is a Hawai‘i non-profit corporation committed to preserving, protecting and restoring the natural and cultural environment of West Maui. For more information, visit