Petitions Urge Maui County To Settle Injection Well Case

Aug 29, 2019

The Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation delivered two petitions to Maui County Council Chair Kelly King Wednesday, urging councilmembers to settle the county's legal case involving its Lahaina wastewater treatment facility, and withdraw its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The petitions come ahead of a County Council committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday when the committee is expected to hear testimony and vote on a resolution to settle the case and withdraw the appeal.

Earlier this year, a council committee failed to pass a similar resolution.

In 2012, four conservation groups filed a complaint with the Hawaii Federal District Court, alleging Maui County was violating the Clean Water Act. The complaint was based on a study that found wastewater from the Lahaina wastewater treatment facility was reaching near-shore ocean waters, which is covered under the act.

The facility treats more than 5 million gallons of sewage a day before releasing the treated wastewater. The effluent is disposed via several underground injection wells. 

The District Court ruled in favor of the conservation groups, and was later upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

But the county maintains it is not violating the act because it does not regulate injected groundwater.

"The loophole the County seeks would allow industrial and municipal polluters to evade regulation under the Clean Water Act simply by moving their discharges just short of the shores of navigable waters, or disposing of pollutants via groundwater," said Earthjustice attorney Mahesh Cleveland.

"A Supreme Court ruling in the County's favor would have serious negative impacts on water quality nationwide."

In a statement, Maui County spokesman Brian Perry said the petitions don't speak to the merits of the county's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, adding the county has been and continues to operate the Lahaina wastewater injection wells safely and in compliance with federal and state guidelines.

"Regardless of what happens with this lawsuit, Maui County's goal is to recycle 100 percent of its wastewater as soon as possible," said Mayor Michael Victorino in the statement.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on Nov. 6.