Legal, Water Quality
July 29 2016

Surfrider Files Lawsuit to Halt Water Pollution on Kauai’s Westside

by Surfrider Legal Intern Kaily Wakefield

Surfrider Foundation Kaua'i Chapter has been working tirelessly to protect coastal water quality throughout Kaua‘i County.  In May 2016, Surfrider along with other local Kaua‘i groups filed a Notice of Intent to sue the state agency Agribusiness Development Corporation (“ADC”) for violations of the Clean Water Act in an effort to protect waters on the west side of Kaua‘i, thereby providing ADC with an opportunity to clean up its act and comply with the law. 

On July 25, 2016, after ADC continued to operate out of compliance with the law, Earthjustice, on behalf of Surfrider Foundation, Na Kia‘i Kai, and Pesticide Action Network, sued Hawai‘i’s ADC for violating the Clean Water Act.  Additionally, Earthjustice sued both ADC and the state Department of Health for failing to meet their constitutional obligations to conserve and protect these precious water resources.

Until recently, ADC operated its 40-mile drainage ditch system under a federal Clean Water Act permit, which subjected it to regulatory oversight, pollution monitoring, and public reporting.  The system funnels millions of gallons of polluted water into the ocean near Kekaha and Waimea after the water travels through open ditches past pesticide-intensive genetically engineered seed operations, a landfill, a wastewater treatment plant, and populated areas.  However, as of August 2015, ADC decided that it no longer needed to comply with the law and withdrew its permit renewal application.  What’s more, the Department of Health seems to approve of ADC’s permit-free pollution, as it has not enforced any sort of permit requirement for the drainage ditch system as it had during decades prior.

The water quality at ADC’s ocean outfall sites fail to meet state health standards, putting numerous people who enjoy recreational activities in the area at risk of illness. The Department of Health, the state Department of Agriculture, ADC, and community groups have found toxic pesticides and chemicals like atrazine, chlorpyrifos, glyphosate, metolachlor, arsenic, and selenium in the drainage ditch system along with other pollutants.  All of these pollutants are contaminating the water where people fish, swim, surf, and boat.   

Surfrider and the other community groups are committed to keeping coastal waters clean and healthy for all who use them.  In their complaint, the community groups’ alleged federal Clean Water Act violations against the ADC, and violation of the public trust under the Hawai‘i Constitution against ADC and the Department of Health.  ADC has three weeks to respond to the community groups’ complaint.