I was disappointed to read the recent opinion piece by Maui Mayor Michael Victorino where he essentially doubles down on his decision to take an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court which despite his arguments, will overturn a fundamental part of the Clean Water Act.

NOTE: pick the correct link

The reason to demand agreement under the Clean Water Act through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) is simple. It is merely a way to ensure Maui County is compliant with nitrogen emission standards to protect our precious nearshore marine environment.

I find it unsettling that arguments being made by the County Administration continue to invoke the Safe Water Drinking Act as if that were the standard here. The issue here isn’t whether these levels are safe for groundwater, rather whether these levels are acceptable insofar as protection of the near shore marine environment is concerned.

To say that a false picture is being painted by the media of the marine life conditions in the Kahekili area of West Maui is a slap in the face to the many, many people who have pushed for the County to end the proactive use of injection wells as a primary disposer for reclaimed water.

Scientists have found the treated wastewater flowing into the ocean off Kahekili Beach in West Maui is harmful to coral reefs. Courtesy: Jen Smith

Besides allegorical evidence of the degradation occurring, scientific studies have shown the impact that the injection of nearly 20 million gallons a day of reclaimed water into the ground is having a detrimental effect on the adjoining ocean environment. Particularly disturbing is a study that includes visual documentation of the destructive impact occurring on these near shore corals as compared to the same species of coral in other areas.

While some may point to beach front photos from the internet as evidence that the waters are pristine beyond measure, there are numerous underwater photos taken in the actual damaged area that say otherwise. In fact, one underwater photo taken just this month shows how the dead and decaying coral heads clearly outnumber the few living branches.

Likewise, when the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area was created, it was in response to the influx of invasive algae that was most likely caused by the nitrogen rich waters in the area. Herbivore fish stocks needed to be increased to help the marine ecosystem in the area return to a healthy balance.

The glaring point is the presence of increased nitrogen is like fertilizer to these sea-based plants, which is why these management measures where needed in the first place. The proclamation that this nitrogen load is primarily due to cesspools is not precise given the lack of cesspools in this area.

The assertion that “coral typically does not grow in the areas where waves break” is laughable. I for one can attest to the fact that after being dragged over the reef while surfing at places like Shark Pit, Hookipa and others, that the coral is very much alive in areas like this where the waves not only break, but break with renowned ferocity.

The County should follow its own advice and instead of sending millions of taxpayer dollars to the mainland for high-powered Washington, D.C., law firms, they should abandon the use of injection wells as a way to dispose of recycled water.  Those monies are better spent on a delivery system for reused water generated by the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility for irrigation purposes, and the injection wells should be for emergency stormwater use only.

But what really alarms me at this 11th hour are the national implications of this legal appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. No doubt, this will send a shockwave across the entire country and destroy communities insofar as taking away their right to know what is being discharged into their own streams, lakes and oceans.

Make no mistake, staying the course with the Supreme Court appeal will not protect our county; it will simply waste taxpayers’ money in addition to actively helping President Donald Trump fulfill his most notable campaign promises in undoing all environmental protections for communities from Maui to Maine.

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