Cesspools an ‘impending threat’ to waters

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.”

  1. Makaala Kaaumoana January 11, 2018 1:56 am Reply

    It should be noted that the cost of replacing cesspools estimated in this article would be for a septic system replacement. There would still be no treatment of the waste and for locations such as Hanalei this would provide very limited improvement to the water quality. Real treatment such as a provided by and Advanced Treatment Unit woukd coat aproximateky $30 k each. This cost would decrease if several units were to be installed at the same time. It is also important to know that this treatment requires monthly electricity and annual maintenance costs. If we want cleaner waters we must treat the wastewater not just store it in a tank and leach it through the sand to our rivers and ocean.

  2. mauisurfer January 11, 2018 6:12 am Reply

    I live on Maui, and this proposal affects my land/home.

    Looking carefully at the Maui exhibit of the original report, nitrates seem to be concentrated downslope of
    agriculture, which uses massive amounts of nitrogen fertilizer (ammonia). And agriculture is not even mentioned in this report!

    Please read this scientific analysis:
    The main source of nitrate pollution in the groundwater results from the actions of farmers. “Farming alone pollutes more of our groundwater resources than anything else. Because too many farmers are caught up in an escalating cycle of pollution” (Behm,1989, p. 2). The farmers first deplete the soil by “excessive, repeat planting” and then try to replenish the resulting less-productive soil by putting more and more nitrogen-based fertilizer on the land in an attempt to keep crop yields constant.

    It is worth noting, organic farmers do NOT use ammonia.

    Also worth noting that septic tanks contaminate the soil with nitrates. Nowhere does the state acknowledge this fact, nowhere is this considered. What is the point of eliminating cesspools if septic tanks will continue pollution? How much better are septic tanks in this regard? The report does not say.

    So the state is blaming Makawao homeowners for a problem created by careless commercial farmers who are over fertilizing with ammonia.

    And the state is whitewashing the commercial farmers by not even mentioning them.

  3. Debbie January 11, 2018 7:09 am Reply

    The headlines should read “Unlimited tourist and impending threat to waters”

  4. Raley Peterson January 11, 2018 7:31 am Reply

    Imagine, 88,000 chances to get sick at the beach! Cess pools have got to go.

  5. Lumahai Mike January 11, 2018 7:48 am Reply

    We can’t keep talking, we must start fixing the problem. Those large house single family beach houses that have been divided into multiple units should get a notice posted on their rentals tomorrow.

  6. Donna Rice January 11, 2018 11:25 am Reply

    Cesspools have been known to be a problem to our environment and water tables for years. We can no longer ignore the problem. Wastewater systems (sewers) should be installed in towns requiring all residences and business to hook into the systems. The costs for residents to connect to a sewer system can be billed over years verses having to pay one large sum upfront to convert a cesspool to a septic system. More rural areas would still need to convert to septic systems.

  7. DevelopmentIsRegression January 11, 2018 10:14 pm Reply

    When is Grove Farm going to clean up the Grove Farm sewage dump leaching into Maha’ulepu? Arryl Kaneshiro has not helped this issue.

  8. Linda G Sciaroni January 12, 2018 8:30 am Reply

    The sewage treatment plants in Puhi and Poipu are testament that they work and are not horrible. The well documented pollution that ends up at the Harbor from Lihue and parts of Puhi indicates Lihue is long overdue to install a Sewage Treatment plant. Hanamaulu was the most beautiful bay, hundreds of years ago. It could be restored with the installation of a Sewage Treatment plant in the community. These efforts to come together and share the task are important works of the government and assure the sustainability of the near shore fisheries and the health of the citizens of Kaua’i. This is a good example of the “tragedy of the commons”.

  9. Charlie January 12, 2018 5:12 pm Reply

    As long as Hawaii has increasing numbers of visitation by travelers from the continental United States (many visit more than once a year) those numbers need to be reflected in the wastewater statistics not solely on the water and water treatment needs of the permanent resident’s homes. Every neighborhood in the Hawaiian Islands should have state of the art wastewater treatment facility (with the end product being potable water) completely subsidized by multiple agencies of the Federal Government, EPA, USDA, DOH among others.
    The Island Nation of Singapore is setting a perfect example of how the water and sanitation needs of of an island can be met.

  10. Jim Rentschler September 6, 2018 7:46 am Reply

    Your statement is partially true. We have recently introduced a Passive wastewater treatment system(ATU) to the DOH and have installation approval. We at NexGen Septics distribute the Presby Environmental wastewater treatment systems. Please review our website and focus on the Enviro-Fin system. The Enviro-Fin IS the solution for cesspool replacements. The Enviro-Fin is NSF40 Class 1 approved and it TREATS and Disperses the treated effluent in a very small footprint. Each unit treats 225GPD and utilizes only 50 square feet. There is no need for electricity, there are no additives or chemicals necessary, the treatment levels far exceed the mandates for TSS and BOD (Under 2mg/L).
    The most important part is that it is the most cost-effective secondary wastewater treatment system available today.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.