County meets strong resistance to plan for Kaanapali site
The Maui News, September 27, 2016
By COLLEEN UECHI – Staff Writer
After strong opposition from the Kaanapali community over the most recently proposed site for a million-gallon treated wastewater storage tank, the county Department of Environmental Management is looking into different locations for the tank as it works to deal with a lawsuit over injection wells at the Lahaina wastewater treatment plant.
Residents want to see it moved more mauka to allow more people to use it, but the department said that the costs will climb with the elevation.
“The higher we move this tank . . . it’s going to cost the county more and, in the long run, the electricity to pump the water higher would cost more money,” department Director Stewart Stant said Monday.
The tank, however, is key to helping the county move away from its controversial use of injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. And, if the county were to lose its appeal of a ruling that deemed those wells “illegal,” it would need to set up a storage tank as one of the requirements, Stant said.
“We have a litigation. We can’t dillydally on this,” said Council Member Elle Cochran, who holds the West Maui residency seat, on Monday. “We need to make some decisions.”
The tank was originally planned for a 2-acre site near the intersection of Puukolii Road and Puu Hale Street, at about 200 feet elevation. It would be 27 feet high at the top of the dome, and 96 feet in diameter.
Wastewater Division Chief Eric Nakagawa said that the project is part of the department’s West Maui Master Plan. Studies began in the early 2000s on the tank, which is supposed to help with distribution problems. Right now, the facility distributes reclaimed water to the Kaanapali Golf Course and some nearby resorts and hotels. However, the hotels can only get water when the facility pumps to the golf pond.
Nakagawa compared it to blowing water through a straw. If holes were poked throughout the straw, the inner pressure would push the water out of the holes. In a similar way, the hotels along the pipe can only get pressure if the facility is pumping to the golf course at the end of the line.
“Once we build this tank . . . it will allow all the users to have constant pressure,” Nakagawa said.
The department also hopes the tank will allow more users to tap into the recycled water system. Just as important, it would also ease the department’s reliance on injection wells.
At the Lahaina facility, there are four gravity-fed injection wells that range in depth from 180 to 225 feet. They are located about 1,500 to 1,900 feet from the shoreline at an elevation of around 30 feet. The plant takes in about 4 million gallons of sewage a day. While 1 million gallons go out to the golf course, nearby pineapple fields and other users, the plant is left with an abundance of recycled water.
“If we had a place to put this water we wouldn’t have to put anything in injection wells, but we don’t,” Stant said.
For several decades, federal and state regulators have given the county permits to dispose of the extra water in the wells, Council Chairman Mike White explained in his May 15 “Chair’s 3 Minutes” column. However, when clumps of algae began growing and choking reefs at West Maui beaches, community groups became alarmed. They attributed the algae to the treated effluent from the wells, seeping into the ocean.
In April 2012, four Maui groups – the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation, West Maui Preservation Association and Sierra Club – filed a lawsuit against the county over the water from injection wells reaching the shoreline. Their concerns were cemented when a 2013 University of Hawaii dye study showed that effluent from at least two of the injection wells was making its way into the ocean near Kahekili Beach Park.
In January 2015, a federal judge ruled that all four injection wells used at the Lahaina wastewater facility were “illegal” and violated the Clean Water Act, and threatened to impose civil penalties. The county appealed the decision, which is still pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but agreed in September 2015 to spend $2.6 million in penalties if it loses the appeal.
Regardless of the outcome, Stant said that the county does want to start moving away from injection wells.
“It’s not that I think the water is dirty,” Stant said. “I don’t want to waste a resource like that because I know the water is so clean.”
Lucienne de Naie, conservation chairwoman of the Sierra Club-Maui Group, saw the tank as a good thing. Many other cities use tanks and artificial lagoons so that they don’t have to rely on injection wells, she said.
“The tank is an important part of moving forward the storage mechanism,” she said. “It is very needed, and we should try to find a place for it as speedily as possible, because it will give us some options.”
The department planned to build the tank at about 200 feet elevation – Stant said this was “the only piece of land that the landowners would give us.” The landowner, Kaanapali Land Management, was willing to move the tank higher but not to either side, Stant said.
But upset residents said they didn’t hear about the tank until they ran into surveyors checking out the area in the spring, Mike Sowers, a director on the board of the Kaanapali Hillside Homeowners Association, said Monday. At a meeting with the department Thursday, community members expressed their concerns, which included having a tank “right at the entrance of the entire neighborhood,” Sowers said.
If the tank were moved higher, they believe it could be used for agriculture. Sowers said that multiple groups have expressed interest in growing crops, but need the water. Kaanapali Land Management grows bananas in the area.
“You’ve got all this acreage up here that is just red dirt,” Sowers said. “I think the department is a little short-sighted. They’re focused on water at the resorts, but if they put it up another 300 feet, all of a sudden there’s all kinds of stuff they can do with it.”
Preliminary estimates show the tank would cost around $14 million, Nakagawa said. Moving the tank up to the 300 feet elevation would cost an additional $7 million, Stant said.
“I think we need to look into, is that actually the cost?” Cochran asked. “I haven’t seen any paperwork or proposals. . . . If it is, that’d be up to the council to decide. Is it worth it or not?”
Cochran said that a tank is needed to use the county’s reclaimed water, but that the community “should at least be given options, and not just one (location) and that’s it.”
Stant did not have a timeline but said that the department is working on cost estimates to bring to the council.
The department is also planning additional improvements at the Lahaina wastewater treatment facility, but they are not related to the lawsuit, Nakagawa said. Old equipment needs to be replaced so that the county can meet nitrogen requirements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Currently, the equipment is only used in cases of emergency. The estimated cost of improvements would be about $30 million.