LIHUE — More than 6,000 cesspools should be replaced on Kauai in order to improve water quality, according to the state Department of Health.
In a reported released Tuesday on cesspools and prioritization for replacement, 14 areas were identified where cesspool upgrades are critically needed to protect public health statewide.
On Kauai, those areas are Kapaa/Wailua, with roughly 2,900 cesspools, Poipu/Koloa, with 3,600 cesspools, and Hanalei, with 270 cesspools.
And in order to encourage conversion of those cesspools to septic tank systems, anaerobic treatment systems, or sewer connections, the state is reminding people of its tax credit of up to $10,000 during the next five years.
In Hanalei, Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana, executive director of the Hanalei Watershed Hui, has been promoting a cesspool replacement project funded from DOH to help pay for the replacement of 75 cesspools in the area.
DOH told Ka‘aumoana she had until the end of November to get five people to sign onto the program in order for it to continue, and she has received four letters of intent to replace the systems.
“We need one more to retain the funding. If we don’t get more folks willing to help improve the water quality in Hanalei, this funding will cease,” she said. “This is an opportunity to take a positive step and receive the financial help to do it.”
The bottom line, she says, is that Hanalei Bay is full of leakage from cesspools in the area.
“These waters need to be cleaned up. There are cesspools in the sand at this point,” Ka‘aumoana said. “The idea that a cesspool doesn’t cost you anything is the hurdle.”
She said it’s not a case of “let’s study this some more,” and it’s a chance to remedy the situation.
“This is a chance to have someone pay for your stuff. We can’t let it stay the way it is and we know whose stuff it is that’s going into our water,” she said.
The Legislature’s 2016 goal of eliminating all cesspools statewide by 2050 is an indication of the state’s desire to move toward other ways of waste treatment, she said.
But, the Hanalei cesspool replacement program is only for Hanalei. The rest of the state can take advantage of the state’s tax credit program, but you have to itemize your taxes for the program to apply.
Bridget Hammerquist of Friends of Mahaulepu said she’s encouraged by the state’s announcement because it seems a step toward helping homeowners and essentially expands the program going with Hanalei Watershed Hui.
“I think they’re trying to get more money to help people who can’t afford to do it,” Hammerquist said.
Of the state’s 88,000 total cesspools, about 43,000 are in the 14 priority areas. Those cesspools provide no treatment and inject about 53 million gallons of raw sewage into Hawaii’s groundwater daily, according to DOH.
Hawaii gets more than 90 percent of its drinking water from groundwater.
“In areas such as Kahuluu on Oahu and Kapoho and Puako on Hawaii Island, cesspools harm recreational waters and precious coral reefs,” said Keith Kawaoka, DOH deputy director of the Environmental Health Administration.
Kauai biologist Katherine Muzik theorizes the cesspools on Kauai are harming the reefs as well, by leeching pharmaceuticals and other contaminants into the groundwater that eventually makes it to the reefs.
The cost to upgrade the entire state’s cesspools is estimated at $1.75 billion, and state law requires that project to be completed by 2050.
The state’s Tax Credit Program for Qualifying Cesspools is limited to a total of about $5 million, or about 500 cesspool upgrades per year for the next five years. To date about 50 taxpayers have used the program.
“The state began taking action last year, and today’s report clearly highlights the need for greater measures to tackle this impending threat to our drinking and recreational waters,” said Kawaoka.
He continued: “With 88,000 systems currently affecting our environment, it will take a concerted effort by our entire community to convert existing systems to safer alternatives.”