HILO — The latest in a string of wastewater discharges from a Big Island dairy farm has residents wondering how it will handle its planned closure next year.
A Monday discharge from Big Island Dairy was just one of several such spills and discharges that have occurred at the farm this year.
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Thursday that the most recent discharge released nearly 600,000 gallons of wastewater into Kaohaoha Gulch near the town of Ookala.
Residents have long complained about releases of manure-laden water from the dairy into the nearby gulches that run through or next to the community.
Dairy management did not respond to an email or phone calls from the newspaper.
State Department of Health spokeswoman Anna Koethe told the newspaper that dairy management said pumps were used to drain the wastewater lagoons in order to reduce the risk of effluent overflowing from the earthen lagoons.
Ookala resident Charlene Nishida says the ongoing spills are alarming and she’s concerned the farm can’t operate or end its business without discharging more wastewater into the environment.
It’s “alarming and shocking they have not been forced to shut down at this point. It’s government at its worst,” Nishida said.
The Department of Health issued the dairy fines of $91,000 on Dec. 4 for three separate spills between April and May. The department fined the dairy $25,000 in May 2017 for unlawful discharge of wastewater.
Big Island Dairy’s owners confirmed last month that they will discontinue dairy and milk processing operations at the Ookala facility.
Koethe says the dairy’s inability to properly manage wastewater is a major reason for its pending closure.
“Though the dairy is taking actions to reduce and eliminate its herd by early summer, there remains substantial risk of additional discharges during periods of prolonged wet weather,” Koethe said.
The citizens group Kupale Ookala and the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging violations by the dairy of the federal Clean Water Act.
Resident Genard Frazier says he wasn’t surprised by the news of another discharge but was upset because he believes the farm is using rainfall and storms as an excuse to continue dumping their effluent.