Hanalei works to improve water quality

HANALEI – Water pollution from sumps threatens Hanalei’s health, economy and quality of life.

Sumps, a type of archaic sewage treatment system where untreated sewage is discharged directly into the ground with minimal filtration, are still used in the Hawaiian Islands, the largest quantities on the Hawaiian Island and Kaua ‘ i.

Hanalei is home to over 150 sumps that pose a significant threat to Hanalei Bay and Town.

Due to the high water table and sandy soil present in Hanalei, the sumps pollute not only the local river and streams, but also the bay itself.

A 2020 study by scientists at Stanford University and hydrologist Matt Rosener of the Waipa Foundation confirmed that there is widespread human fecal contamination in the Hanalei River which is likely the result of sumps nearby.

This pollution leads to high levels of nitrogen and bacteria such as enterococci, making water less safe and less desirable for recreation and promoting the growth of harmful algal blooms.

In addition to the implications for human health, this is of concern for our already stressed coral reefs, especially when viewed in the context of a recent study conducted by the University of Victoria which found that coral reefs cannot recover from bleaching only when there is minimal “local disturbance” from the polluted water.

“It’s important to understand that sumps send raw sewage directly into groundwater without any treatment in places like Hanalei where the water table is only a few feet below the ground,” Rosener said.

“And because water moves easily through sandy soils, sewage pollution like chemicals and pathogens find their way into nearby surface waters all the time, but especially during periods of time. rain. We have a huge opportunity to improve water quality by modernizing our wastewater treatment here, ”he said.

To address this issue, the state passed Law 125 in 2017, requiring the state to upgrade all sumps to more advanced wastewater treatment systems like septic tanks or aerobic treatment units by here. 2050. However, there is no official plan for this transition to occur.

“Right now we do about 150-200 sump conversions per year,” said Stuart Coleman, executive director of Wastewater Alternatives and Innovations (WAI). “To fulfill the mandate of 2050, we would need to do 3,000 a year for the next 30 years, so we are woefully behind schedule.”

The community of Hanalei has been trying to remedy the sewage situation for more than two decades.

In 2012, Hanalei Hui Watershed released a current science-based Watershed Management Plan to provide a clear view of the wastewater problem and chart a path to a safer Hanalei.

“Individual sanitation systems are not regulated to require upgrading before 2050,” noted Maka’ala Ka’aumoana, executive director of the Hanalei Hui watershed. “It’s more important to me and to this program that we help people make these upgrades much sooner than that. “

A large grant was received by the hui in 2016 to upgrade the sumps, but homeowners did not join the program on time and the funds were returned to the federal government. Since then, some more modest efforts in Hanalei have been able to progress.

Rosener played an active role in converting the sumps at Hanalei to more advanced systems. Through his work with the Hanalei Watershed Hui and the Waipa Foundation, most of the sumps between Wai’oli and Waikoko creeks have been upgraded, and the remaining ones are upgraded within the year.

Most of the remaining sumps in Hanalei are in and around the city center, and these are the targets of the Hanalei Initiative’s current work on improving wastewater infrastructure.

The initiative aims to modernize Hanalei sumps using a systematic and transparent method based on environmental and economic priority.

This work is taking place under the increasingly intense effects of climate change. Hanalei’s already high water table is rising due to rising sea levels, coral reefs are whitening faster due to warmer waters, and extreme weather events such as floods and hurricanes are on the rise. frequent.

“There is no doubt in a scientist’s mind that sea level is rising,” said Dr. Carl Berg, senior scientist at the Surfrider Foundation.

“By 2050, we are going to see a major sea level rise that will have a huge impact on Hanalei,” Berg said. “What you are doing now cannot be a short term solution. The solution to the cesspool problem must be one that lasts for the long term and resists environmental changes, he stressed.

“Not only does the sump conversion provide an incredible benefit to our employees and our environment, it is also a great job creation opportunity,” said Joel Guy, executive director of the Hanalei Initiative.

“These are the kinds of jobs we want our community to have. Because we are so dependent on the visitor industry, creating jobs that are not tourism dependent can be of tremendous benefit to the community, ”Guy said.

Hanalei must capitalize on the current situation and tackle the sewage problem that has plagued her community for decades. By working together, the community believes they can provide Hanalei with healthier reefs, fish, surfers, residents and visitors, and create a stronger and more independent economy.

The Hanalei initiative has partnered with Seascape Solutions to create an online map of the wastewater system where sumps are ranked by potential environmental impact based on proximity to streams and sea, depth groundwater and other factors.

This analysis will be used to prioritize the systems to be upgraded by identifying which sumps have the greatest potential to harm the environment and human health.

Of course, the decision to convert a sump to a more environmentally friendly system has to be made by the homeowner, and the high cost of upgrades is a barrier for many residents.

The purchase and installation of an aerobic treatment unit, which is the preferred option in environmentally sensitive areas, can cost anywhere from $ 25,000 to $ 46,000.

To address this issue, the Hanalei Initiative is seeking grants, loans and donations to support sump conversions, with the aim of helping homeowners who want to modernize, especially if they are in environmentally sensitive areas. . Improving sumps at these locations would provide a service to the community by helping to keep rivers and nearshore waters clean and safe.

Kaua’i County Council members Luke Evslin and Mason Chock recently introduced legislation that would allow the county to receive funding from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to provide financial assistance to replace sumps.

This fund is a partnership between the EPA and the State to finance water purification projects, in this case diffuse pollution. Other possible sources of funding are available through the US Department of Agriculture in the form of grants and loans as needed. Upcoming federal investments in infrastructure will likely provide additional financial support.

The Hanalei Initiative is currently compiling a list of Hanalei owners in Ha’ena who are interested in upgrading their sumps and is working to connect them with funding and resources. Anyone interested in learning more can visit the website, hanaleiinitiative.org, where a map of sanitation systems is located, to see which sumps pose the greatest risk to the environment, and join a mailing list at hanaleiinitiative. .org / water-quality.


Asher radziner is with the Hanalei Initiative.

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