Plan aims to keep runoff from reefs in West Maui

A voluntary coral management plan, which was developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, is the first in the state that comprehensively addresses how runoff is affecting deteriorating reef health.

“A big part of the problem is what is flowing off the land into the sea,” said project manager Kathy Chaston in a NOAA news release Friday. “Our team looked mauka – inland – to identify major pollutant types and their sources, and then developed actions to reduce them.”

One of the main projects NOAA is sponsoring within the plan is the Wahikuli-Honokowai Watershed Management Plan, as a part of the West Maui Ridge2Reef Initiative. The watershed plan identifies major sources of pollution – including untreated storm water, injection-well effluent and eroding agricultural roads and fields – and seeks to diminish their impact.

Fallow seed corn, pineapple and sugar cane fields and access roads served as key points of interest in agricultural land runoff, according to the executive summary of the watershed plan found on its website, The most common and problematic pollutants, sediments and nutrients, are generated from these areas and flow into the ocean via surface flow and groundwater discharges.

The summary also lists fertilizers and pesticides, which farmers use to maximize crop production and to control pest and plant diseases, as contaminants contributing to the destruction of West Maui coral reefs.

The proposed projects to prevent agricultural runoff include erosion controls, fertilizer management plans and post-fire rehabilitation plans. The goal is to finish these priority projects within the next five years, said Chaston.

Funding for these projects, which range from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, will be provided by NOAA, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources and the state Department of Health.

Although agency officials would like to begin their work as early as this year, private landowners must be informed and consulted because they are jointly responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the proposed projects.

One of the more ambitious projects in the plan is to increase production and reuse of R-1 water – the highest level of treatment for reclaimed water – in the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. The initial phase for the facility improvements to produce and make better use of R-1 water is set for 2014, with subsequent phases in 2020. The budget will reportedly cost tens of millions of dollars, depending on expansion plans.

The county-owned facility came under fire in August when it was the subject of a lawsuit by four community groups for discharging improperly treated wastewater into underground injection wells. The suit followed an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 that determined the facility contained levels of coliform bacteria that could exceed federal standards under the Clean Water Act.

The EPA downplayed those concerns of high bacteria in December, citing state Health Department testing that showed levels to be “low or nonexistent.”

On the issue of injection wells, the summary mentions that experts theorize that effluent water from the treatment facility can carry chemicals, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, that have negatively affected nearby reefs.

In addition to the larger projects, Tova Callender, West Maui Watershed and Coastal Management coordinator, said the individual too can help revive West Maui reefs, which have lost nearly a quarter of all living corals in the last 13 years.

“Simple actions like conserving water, not pouring chemicals down the drain, and keeping debris and soil out of storm drains, can reduce the pollutants flowing into the sea,” she said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at