Lane washes wastewater into Ookala gulch

Heavy rain from Hurricane Lane caused a wastewater pond at Big Island Dairy to overflow Thursday, sending untreated effluent into a nearby gulch.

Jake Mecham, dairy business manager, said the farm, located mauka of Ookala village, received nearly 25 inches of rain in 24 hours.

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He said the dairy was trying to contain the spill by directing to one gulch, instead of two, and allowing it to flow over a couple fields so that some of it could be absorbed. It wasn’t immediately known how much was released or how long it could continue.

“We’re doing everything in the world possible to try to contain it. It’s just there’s nowhere for it to go after that much rain,” Mecham said.

Residents of Ookala have complained for several years about releases of manure-laden water into nearby gulches that run through or next to the community. The dairy was fined $25,000 in 2017 for an unlawful discharge, and a lawsuit has been field in federal court alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

A spill in May released 2.3 million gallons of rain and wastewater over three days.

The dairy has filed for a discharge permit with the state Department of Health, but it remains pending, Mecham said. Without a permit, no discharges are allowed.

Valerie Poindexter, Hawaii County Council chairwoman and Ookala resident, said she could smell the cow manure early in the morning. She called it a “double whammy” for residents also being hit by the storm.

Poindexter said the dairy should be more prepared for a hurricane, given past issues. She suspected the release to exceed what was seen in May.

“It doesn’t take a hurricane to do it,” Poindexter noted.

Mecham said steps taken to reduce the amount of wastewater include reducing the number of animals from about 1,600 milking cows to about 1,160, and having cows spend more time in the fields, rather than in shelters.

“We’ve done a lot of changes,” he said. “Not enough to handle a hurricane.”

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Mecham said the lagoon is designed to handle a 25-year storm.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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