- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) - A Big Island biologist is trying to persuade fellow residents in the coastal town of Puako to replace their aging cesspools to protect the nearby coral reef.

Phil Hayward told West Hawaii Today (http://bit.ly/1dp4vqY ) he’s found a link between cesspools and the deteriorating health of Puako’s reef.

A University of Hawaii at Hilo analysis of algae samples collected by Hayward and reef ecologist Bob Teytaud at Puako last fall found high levels of a nitrogen isotope that is a tracer of wastewater.

“The algae were all found to have nitrogen from human waste, which adversely affects coral reef health. Coral needs clean, clear, nutrient-poor water like an underwater solar panel,” said Hayward, who is semi-retired. “Nutrients from our waste promote algae and plankton, which cloud the water and cover the coral. Our waste also adds pathogens, which can make swimmers sick and further weakens coral health.”

Puako does not have a sewer system. The state Department of Health estimates there are 55 cesspools - porous holes in the earth into which raw sewage is directly discharged - among the 150 properties at Puako Beach Lots.

According to the South Kohala Community Development Plan, the groundwater table in Puako is near the surface and wastewater seeps into the ocean from the cesspools.

Last summer, a state Department of Land and Natural Resources study of reef fish at Puako and Pauoa showed a “drastic decline” in populations of both bays, as well as decreases in coral cover.

The county’s general plan calls for the construction of a sewage system for Puako Beach Lots, but Hayward is proposing to move now instead of relying on the government.

He’s suggesting that individual homeowners replace their cesspools and failing septic systems with aerobic treatment units. Hayward says these units are a cleaner, smarter and greener way to dispose of sewage.

He’s leading an effort to create a nonprofit organization, South Kohala Utility and Improvement Design, that will offer consulting services and an appraisal for $200 per home. The nonprofit is collecting donations and will hold fundraisers to help subsidize replacements.

Cost is what typically prevents homeowners from upgrading their systems, he added.

Jan Nores, who owns two homes in Puako, supports the effort. She’s looking to replace a 22-year-old septic system at one of her homes with an Envirocycle system, which cleans the wastewater so well that she can use it for irrigation. For her other home, which is being remodeled, Nores is replacing the cesspool with a new septic system.

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Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com

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