Replacing all cesspools in state is big challenge

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii lawmakers have learned that their plan to have all the state’s cesspools removed by 2050 is not an easy task.

Lawmakers met Wednesday for an informational briefing about a new state Department of Health report describing the scope of the problem.

Cesspools are an outdated means of sewage disposal. There are about 88,000 cesspools in Hawaii, all of which need to be replaced with a septic tank or hooked up to a sewer system.

The department’s report said the state’s cesspools release about 53 million gallons of raw sewage into the ground each day, representing a significant risk.

The problem, however, is that it’s unlikely many homeowners will be able to afford an upgrade. County governments also might not be able to financially support people.

The department’s report said it could cost about $20,000 to remove each cesspool. The cost to upgrade all of the state’s cesspools is estimated at $1.75 billion.

Funding ideas will be formulated during the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 17.

“The report findings are troubling and show wastewater from cesspools is beginning to impact drinking water in some parts of upcountry Maui,” Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler said. “The water in these areas is still safe to drink, with no evidence of bacterial contamination; however, there are early warning signs that tell us we must act now to protect the future of our drinking water and the environment.”