Maui Lawmakers Defer Resolution to Settle Clean Water Act Lawsuit

May 20, 2019

Coral reefs offshore from Kahekili Beach were found to have been damaged by discharge from the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility, which reached the ocean via groundwater.
Credit Courtesy of DLNR / Division of Aquatic Resources

Update, 5:30 PM, May 23rd, 2019: The GET Committee deferred the resolution with a 4-4 split. The resolution will remain in the committee, and will be discussed at a later time.

Members of the Maui County Council on Monday considered a settlement offer in the case of a county wastewater facility. The case is currently scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.


A group of Maui-based environmental groups, led by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, sued Maui County in 2012 alleging the discharge from the county’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility was in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit followed a study conducted by a University of Hawaii geologist which found that effluent discharged by the Lahaina facility was traveling through groundwater and reaching the ocean.

A study first published in 2012 found a conclusive link between the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility's injection wells and the nearby ocean waters.
Credit Lahaina Groundwater Tracer Study

The Clean Water Act does not cover groundwater, but as surface water the ocean is covered. Two separate court rulings affirmed that pollutants transmitted to surface water via groundwater are in fact covered by the 1972 law.

Treated wastewater from the Lahaina facility is disposed of via injection wells, which are currently permitted under state law.

The matter of discussion on Monday was whether or not Maui County should pursue the Supreme Court case or agree to a settlement proposed by an Earthjustice attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Mayor County Mayor Mike Victorino has the authority to enter into settlement agreements on behalf of the county, but so far has not taken any action on the settlement proposed by Earthjustice.

In response to perceived stalling on the part of the county’s chief civil attorney, Maui County Council Chair Kelly King introduced a resolution that would allow the legislative arm of the county to enter into the settlement agreement. This is permitted under existing county ordinances.

The make up of the council is perceived to be more environmentally friendly following November elections in which four seats were openly contested. Mayor Victorino also won his first term in that election after previously serving on the council.

At the time of broadcast councilmembers were still deliberating.

Update, 5:20 pm, May 20th, 2019: The Governance, Ethics, and Transparency Committee recessed until Thrusday, May 23rd, at which point members will vote on whether or not to advance the settlement resolution.