LIHUE — Hawaii legislators were brought up to speed on cesspool replacement Wednesday during a briefing for the House and the Senate on the Department of Health’s cesspool report.
The report identifies 14 priority areas for cesspool replacement, and was released in late December, with three of them being on Kauai: in the Kapaa/Wailua area, Poipu/Koloa area, and Hanalei Bay.
The cost to upgrade all of the state’s 88,000 cesspools is estimated at $1.75 billion and state law currently requires their elimination by the year 2050.
Partnerships are the way that will be accomplished, according to the DOH report, which suggests a collaboration between state and county agencies.
“These issues are complex, involving access to municipal sewer systems, local geology, cesspool density, receiving waters, and most appropriate treatment technology,” the report says.
The point of Wednesday’s hearing was to generate ideas on how to pay for the replacements, which cost about $20,000 for each cesspool. These funding ideas will be formulated and the money sought during the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 17.
The DOH report was ordered by the Legislature earlier this year in Act 125 of 2017.
“The report findings are troubling and show wastewater from cesspools is beginning to impact drinking water in some parts of upcountry Maui,” said Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler. “The water in these areas is still safe to drink, with no evidence of bacterial contamination; however, there are early warning signs that tell us we must act now to protect the future of our drinking water and the environment.”
Meetings are planned on the main Hawaiian islands for the public to get up to speed on the matter.
A date for a meeting on Kauai is still in the works, but the rest of the meetings have been scheduled for mid-January.
“This is an opportunity for residents to hear the State Department of Health’s plan to reduce the number of cesspools in Hawaii and to hear details of their report just released to the Legislature,” said Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole (D-48).
Cesspools present a health risk to people, according to the report, as well impacts to the drinking water, coral reefs, streams and coastal resources.
The report also points out cesspool wastewater is untreated and contains pathogens, bacteria and viruses, as well as nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous that can disrupt Hawaii’s ecosystems.
“(The report) clearly highlights the need for greater measures to tackle this impending threat to our drinking and recreational waters,” said Keith Kawaoka, DOH deputy director of the environmental health administration.
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.”