By Wendy Osher
Maui community groups, represented by Earthjustice, plan to sue the County of Maui claiming ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. The groups included in the claim are the Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, West Maui Preservation Association, Surfrider Foundation’s Maui Chapter, and Sierra Club-Maui Group.
A press release issued by the environmental law firm contends that the county run facility injects millions of gallons of wastewater into the ground water each day. Although the water is treated at the facility, Earthjustice claims the water still contains bacteria, chemicals and other pollutants when it is pumped into the ground.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to require the County of Maui to obtain a water pollution control permit to limit the alleged discharge of pollutants from the Lahaina facility into nearshore waters.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff claims the wastewater from the facility is a contributing factor to a decline of coral reefs and the nearshore ecosystem in West Maui coastal waters.
“The waters are intended to support aquatic life and provide aesthetic enjoyment and the opportunity for recreation, but because of the pollution from the injection wells, algal blooms smother the reef and pollutants degrade water quality,” said Paul Achitoff.
Lance Holter, Chair of the Sierra Club-Maui Group, pointed toward studies conducted by the University of Hawai‘i and the U.S. Geological Survey, that he says indicates the presence of municipal wastewater discharge in waters near the facility. “Our goal is to ensure that the County comes into compliance with the Clean Water Act to protect the ocean and those who live, work and play there,” said Holter.
An area of concern identified by plaintiffs includes the Kahekili Herbivore Recovery Zone, which they note as an important habitat for the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle. “By providing the County with notice of our intent to sue, we are telling Maui County how urgent it is that they stop these illegal discharges,” said Hannah Bernard, president of Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund.
The community groups claim that attempts were made with the current and previous administrations to resolve the issue without litigation. Under current laws, a formal notice of intent to sue must be provided at least sixty days before a lawsuit is filed.
“The Clean Water Act requires that the County get a permit to regulate their pollution discharges for the protection of Maui coastal water quality, aquatic ecosystems, and human health,” said Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaii Coordinator.
He continued saying, “sound public policy requires that the County start reclaiming the water for land-based use instead of dumping it into the ocean.”
A request for comment from County officials was not immediately available. The County, however is expected to prepare a comment for release in response to the intent to file notice issued by Earthjustice.
*** (A County response to the injection well claims is now posted at the following link: http://mauinow.com/2011/06/29/maui-county-issues-response-to-injection-well-claims/)