The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeks public comments before it issues a renewal permit to the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. A total of about 5 million gallons of sewage is treated each day; 2 million gallons are used and the remainder is dumped into injection wells at the Lahaina facility.
The Federal Underground Injection Control permit process allows millions of gallons of treated wastewater from sewage treatment plants to be discharged into the ground through injection wells. At the sewage treatment plant in Honokowai, steel case injection wells go 300 feet into the earth. The 3 million gallons a day of excess wastewater from treated sewage is discharged into the wells where it mixes with groundwater.
The mixture of groundwater and wastewater eventually flows into the nearshore ocean. The injected wastewater is treated with chlorine and leaves a residual of 0.5 percent, stated Steve Parabicoli, County Water Recycling Program coordinator. The Lahaina plant's injection wells each day pump about 1.2 million gallons of treated R-1 wastewater into the Kaanapali Golf Resort pond, which is then used for irrigation.
In addition, 200,000 to 300,000 gallons of R-1 water is used at the treatment plant for cooling, onsite landscaping irrigation and to water the grass in detention basins, said Parabicoli. He said R-1 wastewater is treated by oxidation, clarification, sand filtration, and disinfected with UV radiation. After treatment, the R-1 water can be used on ag lands and for putting out fires.
Increased use of recycled R-1 water is an efficient way to protect our water resources, especially during times of drought. Recycled R-1 water can also be used in place of drinking water for landscaping, irrigation and construction projects. To do that requires long-term financial commitment to build infrastructure to produce R-1 water and support from the public and other government agencies.
The recycled water that is discharged into the injection wells is a mixture of R-1 and filtered R-2 water. All have undergone nutrient removal through our denitrification system, Parabicoli said. Not all nitrogen is removed during the treatment process. Nitrogen feeds the algae that smother and kill reefs, as occurred during the West Maui algae blooms of 1989 and1991. Current UH studies show an association between injection wells and an overload of nitrogen in the ocean.
R-1 treated wastewater could be used to irrigate a green belt within West Maui's thousands of acres of fallow sugar cane fields to facilitate rain and create a cooler microclimate by replacing the dry weeds and grasses that are a fire hazard. The fires of Kihei and Maalaea are a reminder of what could happen in West Maui.
Nancy Rumrill of the EPA stated by phone that she and her staff are willing to hold a public meeting on Maui if she receives enough letters requesting the public hearing. A Maui public hearing would include receiving public testimony and a question-and-answer session. Several members of the EPA, including the staff attorney, would attend this Maui hearing.
All letters will be answered and will help EPA understand the impacts of injected wastewater on the reefs and the urgent need to reuse treated injected wastewater for irrigation.
A short letter to request a public hearing and comment on conditions for the injection well permit renewal can be e-mailed to email@example.com or mailed to Nancy Rumrill, EPA, Ground Water Office (WTR-9), 75 Hawthorne St., San Francisco 94105. Letters commenting on renewing the Lahaina UIC permit are needed by Oct. 23.
Copies of the proposed permit, the Statement of Basis, the public notice and the County of Maui's application are available for review at Lahaina Public Library and online at www.epa.gov/region09/water/groundwater/uic-permits.
* Eve Clute has a doctorate in public health and has lived in West Maui for 30 years.