Maui News

Draft permit to reduce ocean pollution from Maui treated wastewater up for review

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Environmental groups on Maui are studying a draft permit by Maui County that proposes using more treated water from its Lahaina Wastewater Treatment Plant for irrigation, which would reduce ocean pollution.

The plan could be precedent-setting by establishing future methods to deal with similar pollution in Kīhei, Kahului and other parts of the state.

Government officials and environmentalists are examining a plan to reduce the ocean seepage of treated wastewater from Lahaina injection wells. The comment deadline is Aug. 14. The map is included in the draft permit presented by the state Clean Water Branch.

About 18 to 38% of the 4.4 million gallons of treated wastewater from the plant, located near Kahekili Beach Park, now is used for irrigation of golf courses and other property. The county said the rest of the treated wastewater is channeled into bored injection wells to create a diffuse flow that interacts with soil and ground water.

Federal tracer studies from 2012 to 2015 show a portion of the injected wastewater bubbles up in nearshore waters, contributing to algae growth and degrading reefs.

County officials said the tracer studies in the Kāʻanapali North Beach area did not indicate any bacteria emanating from the seepage.


The draft county permit proposes increasing the amount of wastewater used for irrigation to 42%, which County spokesperson Mahina Martin called a “substantial increase.”

This would decrease the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous-laden wastewater that contributes to algae blooms and the degradation of the reefs.

Earth Justice and other environmental groups won a US Supreme Court appeal prompting county compliance for increasing reuse. These groups are now studying the county’s proposal.

Mahesh Cleveland, senior associate attorney for Earth Justice, said the county plan is “a critical first step for reducing the water pollution that’s been destroying the reef at Kahekili Beach Park for decades.”


Cleveland said his group thinks the state Department of Health should call for a public hearing on the permit.

“This permit is the first of its kind…” he said. “We think it’s going to be really crucial for the public to comment on this permit.”

The proposed permit for the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility may be accessed through the state Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch. The period for public review and comment runs through Aug. 14.

Persons wishing to comment upon or object to the draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit or to request a public hearing by e-mail at: or by mail at P.O. Box 3378, Honolulu, HI 96801-3378.


Copies of the proposed permit and other information are available for public inspection, Monday through Friday (excluding holidays) from 7:45 a.m. until 4:15 p.m., at the Clean Water Branch office located at 2827 Waimano Home Road, Room 225 in Pearl City on Oʻahu and the Maui District Health Office at 54 High Street, Room 300, in Wailuku. Copies may be purchased.

The proposed permit and rationale are also available on online at: home-page/public-notices-and-updates/.

For more information or if you require aid in inspecting and/or commenting on the proposed permit and related information, please contact Mr. Darryl Lum, Acting Chief of the CWB, at the above address or by calling 808-586-4309 (voice) at least seven calendar days before the comment deadline. For those who use a TTY/TDD, please call through Sprint Relay Hawaiʻi, at 1-711 or 1-877-447-5991.

*Cover photo: Lahaina Wastewater Treatment Plant (Photo courtesy: Sierra Club of Hawai’i)

Gary Kubota
Gary Kubota, an associate writer with, has worked as a staff news writer with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and The Maui News. He lives on Maui. He’s also been an editor/business manager with the Lahaina News. He’s received national and regional journalism awards — a National Press Club Citation of Merit and Walter Cronkite Best In The West, among them.
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