What’s at Stake
Millions of gallons of wastewater injected into wells at the facility each day surface offshore of popular Kahekili Beach Park in West Maui, killing the coral reef and triggering outbreaks of invasive algae.
Four Hawaiʻi community groups, represented by Earthjustice, have filed suit under the federal Clean Water Act to stop Maui County from discharging wastewater into the ocean from its Lahaina treatment plant without a permit. Millions of gallons of wastewater injected into wells at the facility each day surface offshore of popular Kahekili Beach Park in West Maui, killing the coral reef and triggering outbreaks of invasive algae.
Maui County has been discharging partially-treated sewage into injection wells at the Lahaina wastewater treatment plant for 30 years, knowing full well that the wastewater would eventually reach the ocean, but has refused to apply for, much less comply with, the required federal wastewater discharge permit. Currently, three to five million gallons of wastewater are discharged into the wells each day.
The complaint filed by the groups asks the court to direct Maui County to secure a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which would set limits on the pollutants that can be discharged from the wells.
In addition to pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous, the wastewater contains bacteria and other pathogens, in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. In September 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency required the County to disinfect all of the wastewater pumped into the injection wells at the Lahaina facility by the end of 2013. The County’s failure to adequately disinfect the water over the past several years has been linked to staph infections among swimmers and other users of Kahekili Beach Park.
Researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi analyzed the specific type of nitrogen found in the algae growing in the waters offshore of Kahekili Beach and were able to positively identify it as the same type of nitrogen being pumped into the injection wells.
Earthjustice is representing Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund, West Maui Preservation Association, Surfrider Foundation’s Maui Chapter, and Sierra Club-Maui Group.
David Henkin, Attorney, Mid-Pacific Office, Earthjustice: “This guidance won’t even be anywhere near getting finalized before the Trump administration’s out the revolving door.”
David Henkin, Attorney, Mid-Pacific Office, Earthjustice: “The court very clearly said that there is no loophole to use our groundwater as a sewer.”
David Henkin, Attorney, Mid-Pacific Office: “Science always has and will continue to play an important role in understanding the bounds of the Clean Water Act.”