Rain exacerbates dairy wastewater discharge

Big Island Dairy in Ookala has continued to discharge wastewater this week.

This comes just days after the state Department of Health asked the public to stay out of Alaialoa and Kaohaoha gulches in Ookala because storm water within both might be contaminated with animal waste.

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Big Island Dairy reported that untreated wastewater from its wastewater treatment system had spilled from a damaged sewage pipe Sunday, discharging into Alaialoa Gulch, the DOH said earlier this week.

The dairy owner also notified DOH that wastewater from the dairy’s lagoons could overflow into Kaohaoha Gulch because of heavy rains.

DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the Department of Health Clean Water Branch is aware of wastewater discharges from Big Island Dairy, understood to have been occurring since Monday afternoon.

“The dairy is continually discharging due to the rain — they are unable to dispose of their wastewater any other way at this point given that their wastewater lagoons are full,” Okubo said in an email Thursday.

Warning signs were posted Tuesday and will remain posted, she said.

Okubo said the DOH considers this activity a violation of a previous order issued “and we are preparing to escalate action.”

In a notice of violation and order issued in April 2017, the Clean Water Branch ordered corrective actions that included “ceasing the discharge of pollutants to state waters.”

The DOH fined the dairy $25,000 in May 2017 for unlawful discharge of wastewater.

Okubo confirmed in a telephone interview Thursday that the current discharge is because of the heavy rains.

DOH staff was onsite Monday and Tuesday to observe and will return to the dairy next week, she said.

It’s a “very challenging situation because the rains are not within anyone’s control, but they are causing this additional discharge to continue,” Okubo said.

She was unsure how much wastewater has spilled over at this time.

The public is advised to avoid Kaohaoha Gulch and the nearshore area.

In a statement provided by Okubo, the Clean Water Branch staff said that since it was issued until about three weeks ago, the DOH thinks the dairy has “largely complied with the order.”

“The DOH believes that the dairy’s replacement of corn with grass as well as subsurface irrigation methods largely eliminated discharges of wastewater from the dairy to state waters,” the statement continued. “However, starting with the spill that they reported (three) weeks ago, along with the discharge this past Sunday evening and the overflow of the wastewater lagoons this week, the dairy has violated its prohibition to discharge.

“The DOH believes that while the dairy is acting to mitigate the effects of the discharges, the current discharges are related to the dairy’s production capacity, size of its wastewater lagoons and inclement weather. The dairy must act to end the discharges as soon as possible and take corrective actions to prevent future discharges of this nature.”

A phone call and email to a Big Island Dairy representative were not returned Thursday afternoon.

Ookala residents have complained about manure from the dairy contaminating nearby gulches for the past several years.

A lawsuit alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act was filed in 2017 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

In April, the DOH asked residents to stay out of Alaialoa Gulch after it was contaminated when an accidental spill of approximately 300 gallons of manure occurred at the dairy.

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Charlene Nishida, an Ookala resident and member of Kupale Ookala, said it’s an “escalated situation,” and one that’s “completely mind-boggling.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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