KEKAHA — There’s a new, more-robust, water-quality-monitoring program in the works on Kauai’s Westside.
It’s a result from a settlement in a Clean Water Act lawsuit reached between community groups and the state Agribusiness Development Corporation.
A federal court ruled in July that ADC was violating the act by discharging millions of gallons of waters contaminated with pesticides, sediment and heavy metals each day from the drainage ditch system it operates on the Mana Plain.
That contaminated water goes into the nearshore ocean waters without the required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
Tuesday, ADC reached a settlement with Na Kia‘i Kai, the Surfrider Foundation, and Pesticide Action Network — represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice — outlining several actions ADC must take to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act, including setting a deadline to get the right permits for discharge.
Community groups hailed it as a victory and a step in the right direction toward responsible resource management and pollution control.
“Our members have been living near the ditches and fishing near the outfalls for generations,” said Na Kia‘i Kai member Bren Naka‘ahiki. “We deserve to know whether these waters are safe and to have the peace of mind that there will be regulatory oversight over this pollution as soon as possible.”
The roughly 40 miles of drainage ditches in the Mana Plain collect polluted runoff and groundwater from thousands of acres of former sugar plantation lands that ADC now licenses to large-scale agribusinesses and various industrial operations.
The ditches are unlined and eroding and discharge pesticide pollution and murky brown waters along Barking Sands and MacArthur (Kekaha Beach Park) beaches, where people regularly fish, swim and surf, according to Earthjustice.
An NPDES permit will limit the amount of pollution ADC can discharge into the ocean, ensuring that the discharges do not violate water-quality standards that protect public health and provide for safe subsistence fishing and recreation.
Pesticide Action Network organizer Devika Ghai voiced relief about the settlement, saying it’s an opportunity to “right past wrongs.”
Carl Berg, Surfrider Kauai Chapter’s senior scientist, pointed out that the organization began sampling for pesticides in the area in 2013 and sounded the alarm for both the government and the public on the level of contamination in the water.
Surfrider Kauai’s Blue Water Task Force also routinely monitors estuarine and ocean waters on Kauai for fecal-indicating bacteria.
“ADC’s commitments to monitor for pesticides will provide a more complete picture of the toxic runoff from large-scale agriculture on Kauai’s Westside,” Berg said. “The ditches were contaminated with agricultural pollution and ultimately led to more testing by state and federal agencies and now ADC.”
As a result of the settlement, five actions were outlined:
w A six-month deadline for ADC to apply for an NPDES permit to regulate, limit and monitor pollution from the drainage ditches;
w Prompt implementation by ADC of a robust water-quality-monitoring program and best-management practices to reduce contamination;
w Regular disclosure of water-quality data on a public website;
w A prohibition against increasing discharges from the drainage ditches until ADC secures an NPDES permit;
w The community groups’ ability to go back to court if ADC does not secure a permit within two and a half years.