Community Groups Sue Agribusiness Development Corporation for Polluting West Kaua‘i Waters, and Department of Health for Allowing ADC to Do It

Agencies fail to comply with Clean Water Act and Hawaiʻi Constitution, endangering communities


Kylie Wager, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436

Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, (808) 206-8868

Earthjustice, on behalf of community groups Na Kiaʻi Kai, Surfrider Foundation, and Pesticide Action Network, sued Hawaiʻi’s Agribusiness Development Corporation today for violating the Clean Water Act by polluting waters along Kauaʻi’s West Side, and both ADC and the state Department of Health for abdicating their constitutional duties to conserve and protect these water resources.

The 40-mile drainage ditch system funnels millions of gallons of polluted drainage waters each day, from the Mānā Plain into the ocean near Kekaha and Waimea on the island of Kauaʻi.

ADC operates a 40-mile drainage ditch system that each day funnels millions of gallons of polluted drainage waters from the Mānā Plain into the ocean near Kekaha and Waimea. The open ditches weave past thousands of acres of pesticide-intensive genetically engineered seed operations, a landfill, a wastewater treatment plant, and populated areas before emptying into popular recreational sites like Majors Bay, Kinikini Ditch, MacArthur Beach Park, and Kīkīaʻola Harbor.

For decades, the drainage ditch system was subject to regulatory oversight, pollution monitoring, and public reporting under a federal Clean Water Act permit issued by the Department of Health. But last August, ADC decided that it couldn’t be bothered to comply with the law and withdrew its permit renewal application. In May, the community groups provided ADC notice of their intent to sue and an opportunity to comply with the law. Rather than obtaining a permit or ceasing pollution, ADC continued fouling West Kauaʻi waters. Instead of requiring a permit for the drainage ditch system like it had for decades, the Department of Health condoned ADC’s permit-free pollution.

“It’s bad enough that ADC thinks it’s above the law. It’s even worse that the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, the agency charged with enforcing the law, is giving ADC a pass, leaving communities and visitors at risk,” said Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager.

“Native Hawaiians have been fishing in these waters for generations to feed our families,” said Na Kiaʻi Kai member Gilroy Yorkman. “Without regulation and monitoring, we have no way to know whether the water is safe for our food and our children.”

Many people fish, swim, surf, and boat near the pollution outfalls, where the water quality fails to meet state standards. The Department of Health, the state Department of Agriculture, ADC, and community groups have found toxic pesticides and chemicals like atrazine, chlorpyrifos, glyphosate, metolachlor, arsenic, and selenium in the drainage ditch system along with other pollutants.

“Agriculture and health officials are ignoring potential pesticide contamination from genetically engineered seed operations, and allowing chemical-laden water to flow downstream.  By shirking their responsibilities under the law, ADC and the Department of Health are permitting public spaces—and fisheries that people rely on for food—to be contaminated with hazardous pesticides.” said Paul Towers, Organizing Director for Pesticide Action Network.

“Surfrider Foundation is committed to providing clean and safe coastal waters for beachgoers to enjoy in Kauaʻi and around the nation. Protecting water quality is of the utmost importance for public health, and we will work tirelessly to defend it,” said Angela T. Howe, Esq., Legal Director for the Surfrider Foundation.

In its complaint, the community groups alleged federal Clean Water Act violations against ADC, and violation of the public trust under the Hawaiʻi Constitution against both ADC and the Department of Health. ADC must respond to the community groups’ complaint within 21 days.

Read the complaint.

ADC ditch draining seed crop lands before emptying into Majors Bay.
ADC ditch draining seed crop lands before emptying into Majors Bay. (Earthjustice Photo)

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.