Federal Court Rules County Of Maui Violating Clean Water Act At Lahaina Wastewater Facility

MauiTime | June 2, 2014

By Anthony Pignataro

We’ve known for a year now that the County of Maui’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility (LWRF) has been damaging precious coral reefs just off Kahekili Beach (“Airport Beach”) in Ka’anapali. It comes from the practice of injecting three to five million gallons of wastewater into the ground each day. In July 2013, the University of Hawaii released a study showing that an astonishing 64 percent of that wastewater is finding its way–through submarine springs–to the coral reefs off shore.

“With elevated nutrients, acidity and temperature, combined with its low salinity and oxygen, the County’s wastewater is, sadly, a perfect recipe for destroying Kahekili’s coral reefs,” said Hannah Bernard of Hawaii Wildlife Fund in a June 2 Earthjustice press release. “The dramatic decline of this once pristine marine environment is just heartbreaking. The County needs to take immediate steps to save what’s left.”

A year before that study, in April 2012, the environmental law firm Earthjustice filed suit against the County of Maui in federal court, saying that the act of injecting wastewater into the ground at the LWRF was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act. On May 30, federal District Court in Honolulu agreed.

It’s a big victory, and Earthjustice smells more than sewage in the water.

“To discourage polluters like Maui County from using our oceans as their dumping ground, the Clean Water Act imposes stiff penalties,” explained Earthjustice attorney David Henkin in the organization’s press release today. “Maximum penalties in this case already exceed $100 million, and the meter is ticking at a rate of over $100,000 per day. It’s time for the County to stop dragging its feet and fix this problem.”

The county itself is being low-key on the ruling. “Although we respect the court’s decision we are still reviewing the court’s ruling and evaluating our options,” said county communications Rod Antone.

And apparently they’ll have a while to review it, since it’ll be nearly a year before the court will impose civil penalties on the county. According to Earthjustice, that hearing is scheduled for Mar. 17, 2015.

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