Group funding part of water study follow-up

The Kihei Community Association has provided about a quarter of the cost for a follow-up study to look into the water quality off South Maui in the context of human health.

The Kihei association has asked two scientists who performed a study on the quality of South Maui nearshore waters and the effect on sea creatures to do another study, this time focusing on human health, said Mike Moran, president of the association.

The study by Mailea Miller-Pierce and Neil Rhoads of Washington State University, published earlier this year in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, concluded that the water quality off Kihei downslope from the Kihei wastewater treatment plant may be worse than the water quality off Lahaina near the Lahaina wastewater treatment plant.

Studies have shown that treated effluent from injection wells at the Lahaina wastewater plant has reached the ocean. The county has been found in violation of the Clean Water Act due to injection wells, though the case remains in litigation.

Rhoads, who had been laid up with a leg injury, said Friday that he had begun looking into the four decades of state Department of Health water quality data, which he and Miller-Pierce used for their published study, for human impacts for the past two months. Miller-Pierce expressed interest, too, but the study required funding, he said.

In a “coincidence,” the Kihei association approached them about the study, Rhoads said.

Moran said that the estimated cost of the study is $12,000, though Rhoads said the funding is “extremely low” with a study of this kind typically requiring twice that amount. There may not be enough money to do a proper study but hopefully their work will be a beginning and trigger future research on the water quality of the nearshore waters off Kihei.

“This is a labor of love because we care for the water. We care for the aina,” Rhoads said.

The Kihei association has pledged $3,000. Moran hoped to attract other groups and individuals to help fund the study and raise the total amount by mid-2017. The 57-year-old association has established a cooperative agreement with the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council to begin collecting donations to fund the study, Moran said.

The Kihei association would like the researchers to evaluate the microbial content of nearshore waters.

“That is the element most immediately affecting the health of people in the water; it is not included in reef health or other marine studies,” said Moran. “Having this information will help the many ocean users focus their concerns, take action to address the issues, and form public policy around solutions.

“This is about our health.”

Rhoads said that it is too early to say whether there are pathogens in the nearshore waters off Kihei, especially in the Cove Park area where the wastewater treatment plant effluent appears to be flowing, but “it sure seemed like it was possible.” Having received a tour of the Kihei wastewater treatment plant, he offered praise for its processes and noted that all water in the injection wells undergoes ultraviolet treatment.

However, the process may not eliminate viral components, such as the norovirus, Rhoads said. To what degree viruses remain viable after wastewater treatment and contact with ocean water and other elements remains unclear.

In addition, runoff from cesspools and septic tanks — that do not undergo the disinfecting process at the wastewater treatment plant — could be ending up in the nearshore waters untreated, Rhoads aid.

As far as a timetable for the research, Rhoads said they plan to make a presentation at next month’s Kihei association meeting. The earliest that the final draft could be ready is early March, though he noted that Miller-Pierce is particularly busy as she goes to earn her doctoral degree in April.

Miller-Pierce and Rhoads hope to submit the completed draft study to a peer-reviewed journal, which will give it scientific validity and legitimacy. He noted that the process comes with a price as well; it cost them $1,500 to $1,700 to publish their last study.

For more information, call (508) 499-9996 or go to www.gokihei.org.

• Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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