Scientists say Maui sewage injected into ocean damages coral

HONOLULU — Discharge from a sewage treatment facility in West Maui has been damaging the coral reefs off Kahekili Beach Park for years, according to a study by federal scientists.

The U.S. Geological Survey study found pollution is not only eroding the reef, but is also inhibiting new coral growth, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported .

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone, however, said on Friday that the findings contradict data from other studies that show the coral reef at Kahekili is getting healthier.

The question of whether coral reefs are being damaged by sewage from Maui County’s injection wells has been the subject of litigation and out-of-court negotiations for nearly a decade.

“Our results confirm how valuable nearshore coral reef ecosystems — the cornerstone of Hawaiian tourism, shoreline protection, and local fisheries — are affected by land-based sources of pollution that are also magnified by effects of coastal acidification,” according to the study.

The facility injects roughly 4 million gallons of treated sewage into the ground near the ocean each day.

In 2013, a scientific study found that sewage from the Lahaina wastewater treatment plant is indeed finding its way into the nearshore waters, prompting U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway to rule on two occasions that the use of the wells violates the federal Clean Water Act.

The county appealed the ruling and attorneys on both sides argued their case before the court last month. If the county loses its appeal, it has agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and spend $2.5 million for infrastructure designed to reuse the wastewater.

“While independent studies detected injection well discharge in some areas of algae blooms, other sources from rainfall runoff, reef siltation, agricultural fertilizer, over-fishing and human interaction must also be analyzed as contributing causes,” according to the county’s website . “It is important to thoroughly consider and identify all sources so that efforts to eliminate damage are successful.”


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