Know Your H20, Legal, Water Quality
October 06 2015

Surfrider Reaches Settlement in Dispute over Maui County’s Clean Water Act Violations

by Staley Prom

Last week, on September 24, Surfrider Foundation and three other environmental groups filed a settlement agreement in federal court with Maui County requiring the County to clean up its act at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility.  For years, the County has disposed of millions of gallons of wastewater every day at the Lahaina facility by injecting it into underground wells, which, it turns out have been making their way through the groundwater and into the ocean at Kahekili Beach.  There, it has been harming the coral reef ecosystem and contributing to algal growth in the water.  What’s more, the County has been discharging its wastewater without proper Clean Water Act permitting.

In 2012 Surfrider Foundation, Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club, and the West Maui Preservation Association, represented by Earthjustice, filed suit against the County for its unpermitted discharges.  The groups prevailed in rulings issued in May 2014 and January 2015, when the court found that the County’s discharges from Lahaina’s injection wells, without the required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, violate the federal Clean Water Act. 

While the County may appeal the rulings, if they are upheld, this agreement requires the County to divert and reuse the wastewater by funding and implementing $2.5 million dollars worth of water reuse projects on West Maui, and pay $100,000 to the U.S. Treasury.  The settlement also obliges the County to make good faith efforts to secure an NPDES permit, and bring its facilities into legal compliance.

Surfrider Foundation’s Maui Chapter has been heavily engaged in the campaign to stop Maui’s use of injection wells for years, and is encouraged by this outcome.  Chapter Secretary Lauren Blickley commented, “With the projects called for under the settlement, beachgoers in West Maui can look forward to improved water quality and coral reef health at one of their favorite snorkeling and swimming spots.”

The government has 45 days to review and comment on the settlement agreement.  Surfrider and the co-plaintiffs have asked the court to approve the agreement as soon as the review period ends, in which case it will be final.  To learn more about Surfrider Foundation, and how you can get involved with your local chapter, click here.