Maui Arts & Entertainment

Film documents environmentalists’ crusade to halt sewage disposal into Maui waters

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Filmmaker Alli Waters tells the story about the successful US Supreme Court fight to force Maui County to stop polluting nearshore waters by disposing of treated sewage through injection wells.

“Under Waters: A Maui Victory” was released through the Maui Film Festival’s Speed Of Light Virtual Cinema, and will be shown on that online site through July 30.

Alli Waters

Through underwater ocean videography, Waters gives voice to marine creatures beneath Maui waters with gorgeous footage of humpback whales, dolphins, turtles, reef fish and the coral reef.


The film also highlights footage of the devastating effect of the pollution at Kahekili Beach Park “Airport Beach” in Kāʻanapali, where nutrients and chemicals from the nearby sewage treatment plant enter the ocean.

The 45-minute documentary is partially Water’s personal essay and a tribute to a coalition that fought for decades to get Maui County to comply with environmental ocean pollution laws. The leaders in the effort included Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund founder Hannah Bernard, Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund attorney David Henkins, the Sierra Club Maui, Surfrider Foundation Maui, and West Maui Preservation Association attorney Lance Collins.

It’s also a tribute to Waters, Maui’s Akakū TV and its community classes where she first learned to record and assemble video footage into stories.


Her career has moved from taking underwater photographs of visitors on a Trilogy sailing excursion 30 years ago to working as a freelance videographer, editor and producer for clients such as Xterra, HBO and the Travel Channel.

The documentary is generous in not naming politicians who ignored or denied the sewage was causing algae growth and killing reefs, and a flawed study that seemed to support their assertions.

Of the more than 4 million gallons daily of treated sewage entering the wastewater plant in Lahaina, 18 to 38% was re-used on land for irrigation earlier this year. The rest has been channeled into injection wells where they diffuse with soil and groundwater, a portion entering the ocean and contributing to algae blooms and killing the reefs.


Eventually, a US Geological Survey study published in 2013 confirmed the pollution and traced its path from sewage treatment plants in Lahaina, Kīhei and Kahului into the ocean.

In 2021, the Supreme Court affirmed lower courts’ decisions that the county was in violation of the Clean Water Act and required a permit.

The County of Maui was forced to take action. It now has released a draft permit that proposes using more treated water from its Lahaina Wastewater Treatment Plant for irrigation, which would reduce ocean pollution. The public can now comment on that draft permit.

Waters began her film project during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and said the film kept getting longer as she added more interviews.

“I hope this film inspires people to take action in their community to stop the pollution of our precious oceans and streams,” she said.

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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