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Judge: Ocean illegally polluted

KEKAHA — The state Agribusiness Development Corporation has been illegally polluting Kauai’s ocean waters since 2015, according to a Tuesday ruling by U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson.

The ruling, delivered in a federal lawsuit brought by three community groups against ADC for violating conditions of the Clean Water Act, requires ADC to obtain and comply with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to monitor and limit pollution levels from the drainage ditches.

The agency had a permit for pollution from the drainage ditches until August 2015, when it withdrew its permit renewal application.

ADC did not respond to request for comment on the ruling by press time on Wednesday.

According to the case documents, ADC claims some of their sublicensees’ activities may be point sources of pollution requiring NPDES permits, but the system itself is not a point source of pollution to the ocean.

The state disagreed.

“There is no question that ADC discharges polluted water into the near-shore waters of the Pacific Ocean off Kauai’s western coast on a daily basis via the Mana Plain drainage ditch system, and that it does so without an NPDES permit,” Watson wrote in the summary judgment.

In its initial complaint, Earthjustice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to litigating environmental issues, representing three community groups in the case — Na Kia‘i Kai, Surfrider Foundation, and Pesticide Action Network — listed pollutants in the drainage water including: pesticides like atrazine, bentazon, chlorpyrifos, and the herbicide simazine; nitrate-nitrite, phosphorus, suspended solids, phenols, beryllium, thallium and the metals arsenic, barium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver and zinc.

The documents continue to point out the water discharged contains pesticides and agriculture chemicals, byproducts of agricultural chemicals, and heavy metals, as well as sediment from the unlined canals through which it passes.

Concluding the case, Watson said that “ADC’s compliance with NPDES permitting requirements will generate more data gathering and facilitate additional public scrutiny of its water discharges.”

That means monitoring and reporting would be back to what it was in 2015.

The issue is related to about 40 miles of drainage ditches that stretch throughout the Mana Plain on Kauai’s west coast. The area is naturally a wetland that has been drained for agricultural production.

Formerly sugar plantation lands, ADC now leases the land to agribusiness companies and the ditches collecting runoff from those operations lead to pollution in waters along Barking Sands and MacArthur beaches in six different places, according to the ruling.

Members of the groups Earthjustice is representing have personal connections to the place, like Na Kia‘i Kai member Bren Naka‘ahiki.

“My family has been fishing and gathering along the West Kauai shoreline for generations,” Naka‘ahiki said. “After years of the Agribusiness Development Corporation turning its back on our community and avoiding protections designed to keep us safe, we can now breathe easier knowing the law is on our side.”

Surfrider Foundation member Gordon LaBedz said their concern related to water quality in the surf on the Westside.

“The ditches empty directly into the Kinikini surf break,” LaBedz said. “Test after test shows the ditches contain pollutants that are harmful to people and our precious ocean ecosystem. We hope the Agribusiness Development Corporation will take the court’s order seriously and immediately begin the process of bringing the ditches into compliance with the Clean Water Act.”


Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or

  1. minutes July 11, 2019 5:59 am Reply

  2. Aloha vibes July 11, 2019 6:41 am Reply

    Pilau, kekaha to poli’s is my fav beach to go to. I now live on the east and i dont mind driving to this beautiful shoreline.Please respect our aina and stop this pollution. I grew up on this side and hope we can enforce and make this positive changes for the next generations.

  3. Lawaibob July 11, 2019 11:23 am Reply

    It’s about time they call these guys out, they been polluting the west side for years

  4. Fern Anuenue July 11, 2019 1:18 pm Reply

    Its totally unacceptable and has been for far too long. We have been drawing lots of attention to this issue since the marches in 2013 and through the court battles, now we will finally start to see rulings, legislation and policies that start to take action. While I know this will be slow also, these corporations will be held accountable for their poisons and the poisoning of our land, water & people.

    Thanks to the Garden Island Newspaper for reporting this important ruling!

    1. Claudia Cowden July 11, 2019 7:30 pm Reply Agree! Right on Fern! Thank you for all your work on this as well. Imua

  5. Aloha Āina July 11, 2019 1:50 pm Reply

    Great article NOT actually naming DOW, DuPont /pioneer, BASF / Hartung brothers and Syngenta…. but at least you posted something …. we know they contribute to the Garden Island , so you don’t name them specifically….

  6. Sheeples July 11, 2019 11:36 pm Reply

    Surfing with shrimp farm employee years ago the question was asked, “how is the shrimp?” Answer:”Would would never touch it, we pump it full of antibiotics so it stays good for sales to the public and doesn’t disease.” Just look at the history of Mt. Yukimura and the nimby powers that be and find you answer. Why treat the Westside brethren this way? They say. Cause f…k em, that’s why!! We see your ivory towers crumbling. Be fair.

  7. drsurf July 12, 2019 11:25 am Reply

    The chem companies, that is what they really are and not seed companies, have not been good neighbors. They can put up a front as scientists, givers to the community and stewards of the land but they have polluted the island since they have been there.

  8. David Myrick January 19, 2021 10:40 pm Reply

    Each and every one of the polluters should be held personally responsible and accountable for the hate crimes which have gone on for decades in these beautiful islands.It is inhumane and subhuman to do such things,and then claim superiority over a people that have always been caretakers and stewards of mother Earth.Class action lawsuits are a good way for the people to stand together embracing the sacred masculine principle of self defense against aggression and violence by using force to put it down.The guilty ones violate the sacred feminine principle by doing harm.And there is no avoidance of the creators cosmic law of sewing and reaping.

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