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Community group on why they intend to sue the County of Hawaiʻi over sewage

Dye tracer studies with cesspools, septic tanks show sewage flow reaches the shoreline within hours.
University of Hawaiʻi - Hilo
FILE - University of Hawaiʻi students used dye tracer to look at cesspools and septic tanks with sewage flow along a 2.5-mile stretch of road on the South Kohala Coast in December 2021.

Hui Mālama Honokōhau is a group of Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and fishers who use Honokōhau Harbor in Kailua-Kona on Hawaiʻi Island.

The group is represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest organization, and intends to sue the County of Hawaiʻi under the Clean Water Act.

“Our community enters the waters at Honokōhau Harbor every day. This is our backyard. We want the county to stop contaminating our water and nearshore reef ecosystems so it’s safe for our families to fish, gather and play along our shoreline,” said Mike Nakachi, Hui Mālama Honokōhau's president.

The group alleges the county is discharging treated sewage into a "natural disposal pit" located in a permeable lava field upslope from Honokōhau Harbor.

The county releases about 1.7 million gallons of treated sewage from the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) every day, according to Earthjustice.

The county has proposed to construct a pump station to bring sewage from residential and commercial buildings in the north Kona area to the facility for treatment and disposal. They say this will increase the flow to the WWTP in the near term by over 3 million gallons per day.

Hui Mālama Honokōhau is calling for the county to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The permit requires the discharge to meet federal water quality standards. This means the Kealakehe WWTP would have to upgrade its facilities.

The Hui is encouraging the county to recycle its wastewater for irrigation.

The county now has 60 days to comply with the Clean Water Act, or the group will file a complaint in federal court.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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