- Associated Press - Monday, June 2, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Maui County is violating the Clean Water Act by releasing partially treated wastewater into injection wells close to Lahaina’s coast, a federal judge has ruled.

The county needs a pollutant discharge permit to release the wastewater, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled Friday.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the water’s high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous trigger invasive algae outbreaks that are killing coral off Kahekili Beach Park.

Earthjustice filed the suit in 2012 on behalf of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club and other organizations. Eathjustice attorney David Henkin said Monday the court will determine penalties after a hearing scheduled for March.

Maui County respects the court’s decision but is still reviewing the ruling and evaluating options, said spokesman Rod Antone.



The Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility disposes of 3 million to 5 million gallons of treated wastewater daily through four injection wells that send fluid deep underground. The facility processes sewage from a collection system serving about 40,000 people.

A 2012 study by University of Hawaii scientists confirmed liquid flows through wells into the ocean via underwater springs close to shore.

In the study, researchers put a tracer substance into the injection wells near the Kaanapali coast. They later detected the tracer coming out of underwater springs less than 30 yards from the shoreline.

The wastewater has been treated to a level just below drinking water, so the county could make it available for watering golf courses and commercial landscaping, Henkin said. But the county reuses only about one-third of the wastewater and pumps the rest into the wells, he said.

“Instead of diverting west Maui’s few streams and pumping its groundwater, they should be reusing this water resource rather than polluting the reefs with it. And they’ve failed to do that,” Henkin said.

Maui County could be fined more than $100,000 for each day it has used the injection wells going back to 2007, Henkin said. He said maximum penalties in the case already top $100 million.

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