Lawsuit seeks to force Big Island to apply for pollution permit

A community group filed a lawsuit against Hawaii County on Monday saying treated wastewater from the county’s Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant is polluting Honokohau Harbor in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Hui Malama Honokohau notified the county of its intent to sue in May, but the county didn’t act, prompting the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu by attorneys from Earthjustice.


The county-owned wastewater treatment plant discharges about 1.7 million gallons of treated sewage every day into a natural disposal pit located in a lava field less than a mile from the water.

According to the suit, multiple scientific studies have found that the wastewater flows into the harbor and nearshore marine waters through the groundwater.

Hawaii County, the suit argues, must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit in order to comply with the Clean Water Act, but so far the county has refused to do so.

Asked for a response to the lawsuit, spokesman Cyrus Johnasen said the county doesn’t comment on ongoing legal matters.

According to the suit, polluted discharges from the Kealakehe plant, which started in 1993, have had a detrimental effect on the water quality and health of the nearshore waters and ecosystems in and nearby to the Honokohau Boat Harbor.

What’s more, the county has plans to increase the volume of wastewater treated at the facility, and discharges into the ocean will only increase in the future.

Hui Malama Honokohau describes itself as a group of Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, fishers, paddlers, recreational ocean users and concerned community members who use Honokohau Harbor and nearby ocean waters.

“We have waited for far too long for the county to clean up its act,” said Mike Nakachi, president of Hui Malama Honokohau, in a news release. “No more. We cannot continue to sit idly by while the county dumps nearly two million gallons of contaminated wastewater into our oceans and along our reefs every day. We need to protect our community and the ocean on which we all depend.”

The suit says members of the hui fish and gather seaweed in the waters around Honokohau and have become increasingly concerned about contaminants in the water and in the fish, shellfish and seaweed they gather to feed their families.

According to the suit, the contaminants in the water are coming from the Keala ­kehe plant, and the nutrient-laden groundwater entering the bay helps generate algal blooms that stress the bay’s reef ecosystems, making them more vulnerable to storms.

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