LIHUE — While the House of Representatives is debating the creation of regional task forces to help counties replace cesspools, Kauai residents in the issue say it’s cash, and an education campaign, that’s going to do the trick.
“Essentially, it’s a lack of information about how polluting cesspools are,” said Maka‘ala Kaaumoana executive director of Hanalei Watershed Hui. “(And) cost was an issue cited by people.”
Hanalei Watershed Hui attempted a replacement campaign in 2017. With a $467,000 grant from the state Department of Health, the hui offered to foot half the bill for cesspool replacement in the Hanalei area.
That left homeowners with a $15,000 bill for the replacement, and after 18 months of campaigning and community connection, nobody took advantage of the program and they lost funding.
The hui cites three reasons why the effort didn’t work: lack of education, a “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality, and lack of individual responsibility.
“We don’t take personal responsibility for what we consume or produce,” Kaaumoana said. “First you have to tell people what the issues are, because they don’t know.”
In addition to bringing people up to speed on how their cesspools affect the water they drink and play in, money to completely replace 75 cesspools in Hanalei would be more effective than a task force, Kaaumoana said.
“We could reduce the pollution of Hanalei for $3 million,” said Kaaumoana. “With that we can replace 75 cesspools with aerobic treatment unit.”
That would put a dent in the estimated 270 cesspools in the Hanalei area.
There are an estimated 13,700 cesspools on Kauai discharging about 10 million gallons of effluent every single day and putting water quality at risk, according to the state’s Department of Health.
They’re part of the state’s estimated 88,000 cesspools depositing 53 million gallons of raw sewage into Hawaii’s groundwater daily, according to DOH.
But the Hanalei cesspools aren’t the only offenders on the island when it comes to pollution, Poipu has 3,600 cesspools that discharge 2.6 million gallons daily and the Kapaa/Wailua area has 2,900 cesspools.
Those cesspools in Wailua, Kapaa and Poipu could be impacting drinking water, too, according to DOH, which put out a report in December 2017 categorizing the cesspool issues in Hawaii.
The pollution of the Waiopili and Waikomo Streams on Kauai’s south side could be in part due to cesspools and injection wells in the Poipu area, and in January of 2018, the state identified these areas as part of 14 priority cesspool replacement areas.
At the Capitol, Rep. Kyle Yamashita has crafted two resolutions that address the problem through the creation county-specific of task forces set to investigate the flexibility and impacts of cesspool replacement.
“In order to take a reasonable and responsible approach to cesspool replacement, I have introduced a measure to ensure that each county is able to work on this complex and expensive issue,” Yamashita said in a Thursday press release.
He continued: “People are worried about costs if they are required to replace their cesspools, about the safety of drinking water, and about possible contamination of the soil.”
Task forces, however, will only be effective if they’re locally based, Kaaumoana said — and when she says local, she means place-based: located within the watershed they are targeting.
“If you convene a task force in Lihue to talk about Hanalei, it’ll never fly,” she said. “If they began in places that have watershed-based plans, where we’ve done the work and the data collection and we have the plan, then you have something you can work with.”