The Environmental Protection Agency plans to make Maui County fully disinfect all wastewater at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Center before it goes into the ground.
The proposed compliance order, which is subject to a 30-day public comment period before it can be finalized, is part of mounting pressure on county officials to address alleged environmental violations at the west side’s sewage treatment facility. This comes on top of a planned lawsuit by environmental groups over alleged release of wastewater directly into the ocean.
The public has until September 16 to comment on the order.
The treated wastewater discharged into the facility’s underground injection wells may contain levels of chloriform bacteria that exceed federal standards protecting a nearby drinking water aquifer, according to the EPA. The contamination would be in violation of the national Safe Drinking Water Act.
By the end of 2013, the County must install a non-chlorine disinfection system at the wastewater facility, to ensure that bacteria will not contaminate drinking water.
In a statement to Civil Beat, Maui County officials disputed EPA’s allegations that the Safe Drinking Water Act had been violated. Officials also said that the brackish aquifer below the wastewater treatment facility wasn’t an underground source of drinking water.
“Nonetheless, the County has agreed to work cooperatively with EPA to improve the quality of the County’s wastewater treatment at Lahaina as a necessary first step towards increased recycling and re-use of the treated wastewater,” according to the statement.
The upgrades are expected to cost the County $3.4 million.
The disinfection system will also ensure that bacteria will not be released into nearby coastal waters, according to the EPA.
The latter issue is the subject of a pending lawsuit by Earthjustice, on behalf of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, West Maui Preservation Association, and Maui chapters of the Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club.
Earthjustice recently provided the EPA with a notice of intent to file the lawsuit. The nonprofit must wait 60 days after notifying the EPA before filing – that period is up at the end of August.
The lawsuit would hold Maui County responsible for discharging wastewater into ocean waters off of Lahaina, which is believed to be damaging the reefs and ecosystem, according to Paul Achitoff, managing attorney at Earthjustice. The alleged discharge would also be in violation of the Clean Water Act.
The pending lawsuit is seeking monetary penalties to be leveled on the county for EPA violations. Any fines would go to the U.S. Treasury. The suit would also seek to require the county to obtain an EPA permit to discharge treated wastewater into the ocean, which the county doesn’t have. The permit would subject the county to regulations under the national Clean Water Act.
Achitoff said that it has been known for years that wastewater was flowing into ocean waters, and county officials and the state Department of Health, which is responsible for enforcing federal EPA standards, have ignored the problem.
“The DOH seems to view their job as doing as little work as possible,” said Achitoff. “I think their concern is that they are going to have to put more energy into issuing permits. They just wish the problem would go away.”
State health department officials have told Civil Beat in the past that they work to ensure that agencies are in compliance with EPA standards. They also have complained that they are short-staffed and struggling under the weight of extensive EPA data and reporting requirements.
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