In April 2012, Earthjustice sued the County of Maui on behalf of Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club-Maui and West Maui Preservation Association under the federal Clean Water Act for the discharging of wastewater that occurs at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility’s injection wells. Now, the recently-completed 500-page Lahaina Groundwater Tracer Study seems to confirm these environmental concerns.
The Lahaina facility serves the wastewater needs of the community as well as the major resorts along the coast, receiving about four million gallons of sewage a day, according to the study. The facility produces treated wastewater that is sold for landscaping and irrigation needs. Whatever is not sold is discharged underground through injection wells.
Prompted by concerns about the impact of the injection well’s operations, research began to discover the amount, distribution and discharge points of nutrients and chemicals from these injection wells into the ocean. Beginning in July 2011, researchers from the University of Hawaii, led by marine and environmental geology professor Craig R. Glenn, added dye into the injection wells in order to track the water’s path. About three months later, they traced the dye to near-shore waters off Kahekili Beach.
During the two years since, the news release states that scientific monitoring has confirmed a connection between the injection wells and the near-shore water. The study reports that nearly 64 percent of this warmer, more acidic waste water reaches coastal water through submarine springs, bringing pollutants that “impact coastal water quality and result in elevated nutrient concentrations.”
The lawsuit contends that the wastewater that is making its way to Kahekili Beach is endangering the public, contributing to algal growth, and harming the sensitive coral reef ecosystem due to the nutrient pollution it carries.
“Kahekili Beach is a popular area for swimming, snorkeling, and other recreation in West Maui,” said Surfrider Foundation’s Angela Howe in a July 24 press release, “but this study shows that the injection wells discharge nutrients and other pollutants into the shallow, nearshore waters, which degrades water quality. We look forward to coming up with a solution that reduces this pollution for the benefit of everyone that uses these waters.”
County spokesperson Lois Whitney said she was unable to comment on the study or the Earthjustice news release because of the pending litigation.
The groups are currently engaged in settlement talks with the county to find a solution and a way to protect West Maui’s coastal beaches and reefs from wastewater damage.