Aloha Ocean Protector!
We have a key chance to defend Maui’s coral reefs. The Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility is up for a Clean Water Act permit and we need your help to make sure it is as strong as possible.
Join us at our Community Education Meeting Saturday August 5th at 5PM:
Call to Action! By August 14th please:
- Send an email to email@example.com, with the subject line “Public Comments and Request for Public Hearing on Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility Permit”
- Include requests for:
- A public hearing on the proposed permit, stating:
- Why regulating the Facility’s discharges is important for protecting ocean users and coral reefs along Kahekili Beach Park; and
- Why you think a public hearing should be held, i.e., to inform the community and receive input on this precedent-setting permit.
- Stronger permit terms including:
- Meaningful nutrient limits and treatment plans; without reducing the Facility’s nitrogen and phosphorus levels, Kahekili Beach Park will continue to suffer from excess algae and dead coral reefs;
- Requirements to quickly maximize water reuse, which would minimize or eliminate discharge to the ocean; and
- Provisions to guarantee prompt public access to all permit documents.
How we got here:
In a major victory for ocean advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the Clean Water Act can regulate discharges to the nation’s waters via groundwater. That is why the Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH) is now proposing a Clean Water Act permit, known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, to monitor and limit pollution from Maui County’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. This facility uses injection wells and groundwater to dispose of millions of gallons of treated wastewater daily. The wastewater emerges through submarine springs just offshore of Kahekili Beach Park, a popular recreational area. This permit will be the first of its kind in Hawai‘i to regulate ocean pollution through underground injection wells, which are used throughout the islands for wastewater disposal. We need your help to ensure this precedent-setting permit is the best it can be.
- The Good: proposed NPDES permit contains some strong points, including requirements to:
- Test the Facility’s wastewater for toxicity;
- Monitor water quality at multiple locations as the wastewater travels from the Facility to the ocean; and
- Regulate pollution at its source before the wastewater is injected underground.
- The Bad: proposed NPDES permit is MISSING some key points and must be strengthened to include:
- Strong pollution limits and treatment for nutrients, i.e., nitrogen and phosphorous, which the Facility discharges in amounts far exceeding state water quality standards, and which are known to kill coral reefs along Kahekili Beach Park;
- Requirements to quickly maximize water reuse to minimize or eliminate discharge to the ocean; and
- Public access to reporting and other submissions required by the permit so the public can monitor permit compliance.
- The Ugly: public hearings are not the default
- DOH must hold a public hearing if there is significant public interest. We need your help demonstrating that the public cares about this reef and the details of this unprecedented permit.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org ASAP to request a public meeting
Taking action today will help restore the imperiled coral reefs at Hā‘enanui (Kahekili Beach) for generations to come. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, connect with email@example.com.
To learn more about this proposed permit, check out our joint press release on the permit application. Everyone is invited to join local ocean advocates and experts to discuss the details of this permit application on Saturday August 5, 2023 at 5PM at the Hawai‘i Wildlife Discovery Center (3rd Floor of Whalers Village, 2435 Ka‘anapali Parkway, Lahaina).
Background Information On The Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility
The Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility is a County-owned wastewater treatment plant located near Kā‘anapali. The Facility disposes of treated wastewater (around 3 to 5 mgd) by injecting it into 1 or more of 4 injection wells. 100% of the wastewater injected into the wells travels to the ocean and emerges from submarine springs, also called “seeps.” Even though the Facility’s wastewater is treated to R-1 standards and receives UV disinfection to kill fecal bacteria, the treated wastewater’s high levels of nutrients and freshwater composition harm coral reef ecosystems.
The submarine springs are located just offshore from Kahekili Beach Park (also known as “Airport Beach”), in an area traditionally called Hā‘enanui. The waters of Hā‘enanui provide important feeding areas for the critically endangered honu ‘ea (hawksbill sea turtle). Honu ‘ea depend on healthy coral reefs for food. The shoreline also provides resting areas for ‘īlio holo i ka uaua (Hawaiian monk seal), one of the most endangered seal species in the world. Residents and visitors enjoy a wide range of recreational activities, such as snorkeling, surfing, diving, swimming, whale watching, and stand-up paddling, along Kahekili Beach Park and the submarine springs, many of which are just a few yards offshore.
After many years of advocacy and litigation led by community groups, the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2020 ruled in County of Maui v. Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2020), that the County cannot avoid regulation under the federal Clean Water Act simply by discharging the Facility’s wastewater to underground injection wells instead of directly to the ocean. The U.S. District Court of Hawai‘i then ruled in 2021 that the Facility’s discharges violate the Clean Water Act unless they are regulated under a federal permit, known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
Because of the federal court decisions, the state Department of Health (DOH) has proposed a NPDES permit for the Facility. NPDES permits are important tools for monitoring and reducing ocean pollution. This permit will be the first of its kind in Hawai‘i to regulate ocean pollution through underground injection wells, which are used throughout the islands for wastewater disposal. If approved, this permit will last for 5 years, after which the permit will be up for renewal and DOH will have an opportunity to revisit the permit’s terms.
How to Get Involved
- Submit to DOH your (1) public comments in support of issuing an NPDES permit for the Facility, with REVISIONS and (2) requests for a public hearing on the proposed permit by MONDAY, AUGUST 14.
- Submissions may be sent:
- By email to firstname.lastname@example.org or
- By mail to Department of Health Clean Water Branch, P.O. Box 3378, Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96801-3378.
- The permit documents are available online here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1MEUAofEp20MLACXVTeON7MQuGpTaxcU3
DOH Should Hold A Public Hearing Before Finalizing The Permit
- DOH should hold a public hearing to publicly vet the proposed permit.
- This permit is the first of its kind to regulate ocean discharges through underground injection wells.
- The Maui community has an interest in ensuring that this permit is the best it can be.
- The public deserves the opportunity to hear from DOH, ask questions about the permit, and explain how ocean pollution from the Facility affects them and the environment.
The Proposed Permit’s Strong Points
- The proposed permit includes some important water quality monitoring and reporting requirements.
- The proposed permit requires the County to test the Facility’s wastewater for toxicity, a type of testing that measures whether the discharge waters are lethal to certain plant and animal species (here, flathead minnow, daphnid, and green alga). See Proposed Permit Part B. This testing is important to determine whether exposure to wastewater discharge from the Facility is safe.
- The proposed permit requires water quality monitoring for many pollutants at the point where the wastewater discharge enters the injection wells, as well as at the seeps. These multiple monitoring points will help us understand pollution levels as the wastewater travels from the Facility to the ocean. See Proposed Permit Parts A & D.
- The proposed permit sets pollution limits, i.e., “effluent limitations” or “WQELs,” for the wastewater that enters the injection wells. See Proposed Permit Part A. This common-sense approach regulates pollution at its source.
- Thankfully, the proposed permit does not include a “Zone of Mixing.”
- A Zone of Mixing is an invisible boundary line around a pollution source in which state water quality standards may be exceeded. Zones of Mixing must be approved by DOH, and some have been over a mile wide in diameter. Zones of Mixing are often associated with deep ocean outfalls, where the wastewater is diluted far away from any typical human presence.
- For this Facility and its nearshore discharges, a Zone of Mixing in the ocean would expose reef ecosystems and ocean users within the Zone to unhealthy levels of pollution.
- A Zone of Mixing in the ocean would have NOT been in the public interest since people regularly use the ocean along the seeps for a variety of recreational activities, and the adjacent reefs provide habitat for treasured marine life.
The Proposed Permit Must Be Improved To Better Protect Our Reefs And Ocean Users
- The final permit must include meaningful nutrient limits and treatment to protect the reefs along Kahekili Beach Park.
- The pollution limits, i.e. “effluent limitations,” for nitrogen and phosphorous were calculated based on maximum levels of these nutrients in the discharge waters. See Proposed Permit Part A; Fact Sheet at 27, 31-33. In other words, these “limitations” will merely preserve status quo levels of nutrient pollution from the Facility.
- Maintaining current levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the discharge waters would be harmful because these levels already exceed ocean water quality standards by 55 and 170 times. See Fact Sheet at 31-33.
Highest Annual Average Inputs
Ocean Water Quality Criteria
HAR § 11-54-6
- Monitoring data show that these high levels of nutrients injected at the wells consistently result in nutrient levels at the seeps far exceeding the state water quality criteria.
- The final permit must include stronger pollution limits for nutrients and monitoring of nutrient levels to protect the nearshore ocean waters, especially since DOH has consistently designated the waters along Kahekili Beach Park as “impaired” for nitrogen and phosphorous, and these nutrients are known to kill coral reefs.
- Although the County treats wastewater from the Facility with UV disinfection (to kill fecal bacteria), the County has taken no steps to remove nitrogen or phosphorus from the wastewater before it is injected underground and ultimately travels to the ocean. The final permit should require the County to remove these nutrients from the wastewater.
- The final permit must maximize opportunities for water reuse.
- The County projects that by 2026, average reuse will increase by just .7 mgd, i.e., from to 1.5 mgd to 2.2 mgd. Fact Sheet at 5, 14. DOH should include these reuse plans as enforceable requirements in the final permit.
- Although the proposed permit requires the County to study opportunities to increase water reuse, see Proposed Permit Part H, DOH should require the County to accelerate these efforts now as part of this initial 5-year permit term. This would reduce the need to dispose of the Facility’s wastewater into injection wells, which lead to the ocean.
- Expanding water reuse would also reduce the amount of water diverted from streams in the area, which are an important source of native stream life and support constitutionally protected Native Hawaiian practices like kalo (taro) farming. The state Water Commission recently designated West Maui as a surface water management area and is in the process of considering permit applications to use stream water within the designated area. Maximizing reuse of the Facility’s R-1 water will reduce the demand for surface water diversions from Honokōhau Stream.
- The final permit must ensure prompt public access to all permit documents.
- Although the proposed permit includes a helpful table summarizing the County’s schedule for submitting reports under the permit, see Proposed Permit Part I, it is unclear whether and when these reports will be made available to the public.
- All permit documents (including those prepared by both the County and DOH) should be made publicly accessible online at or near the time they are transmitted, much like DOH’s past process for posting all permit documents on their website (https://wpc-viewer.doh.hawaii.gov/)
- Providing public access to permit documents in real time would allow residents to track the County’s progress in complying with the permit’s terms and better understand the Facility’s impacts on water quality. This information also would inform future permits beyond the initial five-year term.
Thank you for your support and consideration of our request to help!