Citizens File Clean Water Act Lawsuit to Clean Up Pollution at Kīkīaola Harbor
Hawai‘i State Health Department defies court order mandating federal permit
Today, Nā Kia‘i Kai and Surfrider Foundation, represented by Earthjustice, filed a federal lawsuit against the County of Kauaʻi and director of the Hawai‘i Department of Health for failing to abide by a prior federal court order requiring a Clean Water Act permit to discharge polluted water into Kīkīaola Harbor and the nearby ocean. The groups seek to protect important subsistence fishing grounds, surf breaks, and other recreational areas from continued contamination with pollutants, including sediment that muddies the water and suffocates the reef.
Community members catch fish and crab in Kīkīaola Harbor and also surf and swim in the surrounding areas.
“The Health Department is more like the Do Nothing Department when it comes to protecting our oceans from pollution,” said Lawrence Kapuniai, a Kekaha resident and member of Nā Kia‘i Kai. His family has been fishing and gathering along the West Kauaʻi shoreline for generations. “This ocean is our icebox, and I am not ready to give up on getting it clean so that the next generation can learn to fish at Kīkīaola, the same way I did. That is why we are demanding this new permit to control the pollution dumped into our ocean.” The county has now applied for the required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permit, but the Department of Health has refused to acknowledge its legal duty to process the application, let alone commit to actually issuing a permit for the Kīkīaola discharges.
“The Department of Health’s number one job is supposed to be protecting human health and the environment,” said Earthjustice attorney Elena Bryant. “It makes zero sense for the Department to designate Kīkīaola as an impaired water body due to turbidity and then ignore the very effective tool they have for reducing that pollution, even after a court directly ordered them to do so.”
The Kīkīaola Harbor Drain discharges untreated drainage waters contaminated with sediment and other pollutants into the nearshore ocean waters at Kīkīaola Harbor during heavy rain events. The Health Department has designated the nearshore waters around Kīkīaola Harbor as impaired for turbidity, which is caused by sediment. Water quality testing has detected elevated levels of turbidity, diesel, and enterococcus bacteria in the Kīkīaola Harbor Drain.
“The poisoning of our oceans is both an environmental problem and a public health problem,” said Dr. Carl Berg, Kauaʻi resident and senior scientist for Surfrider Foundation, Kauaʻi Chapter. “Westside ditch waters must be cleaned up and it is long overdue for the Department of Health to do its job and force polluters to stop putting our health at risk.”
The County and Health Director have 21 days to answer the complaint. The federal Clean Water Act requires the county to apply for an NPDES permit and minimize pollution from Kīkīaola Harbor Drain. The Health Department is the state agency tasked with administering the NPDES permit program. An NPDES permit to discharge into the nation’s waters is a tool to reduce water pollution.
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.