Cesspool companies cash in after heavy rains

LIHU‘E — It’s a dirty business, but in the aftermath of heavy rains earlier this month, trucks full of untreated sewage were kept busy in some Kaua‘i neighborhoods.

“I think we had at least tripled our business,” said Carmen Nakazone, owner of J&C Sanitation, the island’s oldest cesspool cleaning company, in business since 1972. “I had to give away business.”

Nakazone said the rains do not saturate the ground right away; the problems begin a couple of days later.

“When it’s flooding, it doesn’t really saturate the cesspool — it’s that one or two days afterwards,” she said. “After the third day of rain, we got really busy.”

It can get “quite expensive” to have a cesspool pumped, according to Nakazone.

The roughly half-dozen companies on Kaua‘i charge anywhere between $300 and $350. And sometimes a cesspool can reach capacity as early as one week after being pumped if the rain persists, doubling cleaning costs.

“I’m a local girl, and I want people to call me in the future,” Nakazone. She advises residents to wait a little before calling a professional to pump the cesspool and conserve water as much as possible. “Don’t wash your clothes. Don’t take long showers.”

If a cesspool is pumped but the ground around it is heavily saturated with water, “the water has no place to go but that puka on the ground,” she said.

A law passed years ago prohibits cesspools from being built on properties smaller than one acre in size. A septic tank is mandated by law on properties smaller than one acre, unless the property is in an area benefited by county sewer lines.

A cesspool is basically a 30-foot-deep hole in the ground with a lid on it, holding 9,000 to 12,000 gallons of raw sewage, Nakazone said. Sometimes contractors choose to build two cesspools rather than one. Regardless of how many cesspools are on a given property, they have to add to a combined 30 feet of depth.

In congested neighborhoods where cesspools were utilized before the law went into effect, such as Waialeale Estates in Kapahi, problems with cesspools are constant. It is particularly bad in Waialeale, Nakazone said, because it was built over packed clay soil from old pineapple plantations, making it difficult for water to seep through the walls into the ground.

As a result, she said, some homeowners in Waialeale have converted to a septic tank system after dealing with constant cesspool backups.

One pumping of a cesspool will remove less than half of its contents. Pumping trucks can carry anywhere between 2,200 gallons and 3,700 gallons of raw sewage.

Some in the cesspool cleaning business say residents should throw four to eight gallons of acid inside the cesspool right after it has been pumped, to help digest solids in the bottom. The acid will throw off the cesspool’s pH levels, so three weeks later residents should throw in an enzyme cocktail, available in stores, to promote growth of bacteria that cleans the walls.

Nakazone said this process is costly and effective in cleaning the cesspool and its walls. But it only works if the ground is dry, she said.

“If the ground is saturated, you put in chemicals, the wall gets cleaner, the water will come back into the cesspool even faster,” she said.

The best thing to do is to conserve water, Nakazone said. Normal showering and dishwashing already contribute to growth of bacteria that eats solids on the walls of a cesspool; throwing enzymes will only accelerate the process.

Each situation is different, and if accelerating the wall-cleaning process is the choice, instead of buying expensive enzymes, residents can throw garden lime down the toilet to help with the cleaning, according to Nakazone.

Another thing Nakazone said that helps is to avoid allowing food into a garbage disposal, which can cause oil to make its way to cesspools.

“That’s really detrimental to the cesspool,” she said.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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