Despite Hawai'i's image as a tropical paradise, many streams, rivers and coastal areas either do not meet state water quality standards or are likely to slip below minimum standards in the near future. Although the Clean Water Act provides clear directives to combat water pollution, EPA has repeatedly approved grossly inadequate efforts by the State of Hawai'i Department of Health ("DOH") that fail to remedy Hawai'i's pollution problems.
In 1998, EPA approved DOH's list of only 18 impaired water bodies, even though EPA and DOH knew of at least 50 other waters that fail to meet water quality standards. Judge Ezra ruled that EPA's approval of that list was unlawful and ordered EPA to identify all of Hawai'i's impaired waters.
"This is a tremendous victory for Hawai'i's water bodies and the communities that rely on them. Hawai'i's streams, rivers, and coastal areas are the lifeblood of this `äina (land) and are resources that we must preserve. For many local families, especially Hawaiians, our streams and coastal areas are like an icebox, because they are an important source of food. Yet, the Department of Health and EPA have been neglecting Hawai'i's polluted waters. This victory will ensure that all of the state's waters get the attention that the law requires," said Kaipo Faris, Project Coordinator for the Hihiwai Stream Restoration Coalition.
The Clean Water Act requires that Hawai'i propose - and EPA review for completeness - a list of all water bodies within the state that fail to meet or are not expected to meet state water quality standards. Once polluted waters are identified, the state must promulgate Total Maximum Daily Loads ("TMDLs") for each water body on the list. A TMDL is the maximum amount of a given pollutant that may be discharged or "loaded" into the water body from all sources without violating water quality standards. (For more information about TMDLs, see "Answers To Frequently Asked Questions About The Clean Water Act And TMDLs").
"TMDLs are important tools to get a handle on water pollution. By setting targets and identifying strategies for pollution reduction, TMDLs help to ensure we take the right steps to address our water pollution problems. Without TMDLs, state and federal agencies – as well as the community at large – are left guessing. It is up to DOH and EPA to create these much needed roadmaps so that we can all pitch in and clean up Hawai'i's polluted waters," explained Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Under the Clean Water Act, EPA must step into Hawai'i's shoes if the State fails to identify all of its impaired waters or submits faulty TMDLs. These requirements have been in place since the 1970's, yet DOH and EPA have failed to follow through with these mandatory duties.
"In his ruling from the bench, Judge Ezra emphasized that clean water is vital not only to Hawai'i's public health, but to our island lifestyle and cultures as well. Until we identify the nature and scope of our water pollution problems, we cannot adequately prioritize or take affirmative steps to remedy them. In the meantime, all of Hawai'i's citizens and visitors will continue to pay the price for EPA and DOH's refusal to follow the law," said Kapua Sproat, Earthjustice attorney.
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