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Millions spent to improve sewage collection systems

VIEWPOINT

Before the time of Mayor Elmer Cravalho’s administration, Maui County pumped all of its raw sewage directly into the ocean. Since that time, every county administration has been working diligently to stop ocean pollution.

We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars improving our sewage collection systems. With the ultimate goal of creating wastewater reuse, the division has worked tirelessly (within its financial capability) to add improvement after improvement while also expanding our capability of handling more volume, as our population has grown tremendously (more than four times that of 1970.)

Our wastewater personnel have taken classes to become educated and trained to operate new and improved technical equipment. We have created a more qualified and expert employee base in the last 49 years. We used to have nearly all only Grade 2 and Grade 3 licensed wastewater operators; we now have at least one Grade 4 (the highest possible national rating), along with many Grade 3 and 2 operators, at each plant on Maui. We also have electricians, mechanics, electronic technicians, engineers and a host of other support staff.

It is a fact that as technology developed in the treatment of sewage, every Maui County administration implemented millions of dollars a year in improvements and we have continued to do so.

Getting to 100 percent recycled wastewater requires many steps. Raw wastewater needs to be transported to treatment facilities, contaminants removed, and solids processed and transferred into a usable nonpolluting product.

New equipment is expensive; replacing and enlarging existing sewage transmission lines and lift stations are expensive. Obtaining needed permits and actual construction take a very long time.

Its not practical to demand that the department stop using injection wells immediately, when the funds, personnel and solutions are not provided by the County Council.

The County of Maui has applied for an NPDS Permit from the state for many years, but the state hasn’t issued one to the county.

The county didn’t file the original injection well lawsuit. There would not have been any case if the environmental groups had left the department alone or had helped with solutions.

We elect council members and give them the responsibility to find solutions for the community’s challenges. When they take office, they inherit all the problems that existed before they took office; they are responsible to make whatever corrections that are necessary.

Over the years, the department has expanded the reuse lines to various locations in Central, South and West Maui.

When I was mayor, among the other solutions we proposed was to create a 150-acre green forest park above the South Maui Police Station that would be able to use the treated effluent from the Kihei Wastewater Reclamation Facility nearby for its irrigation needs. (A storage tank was already constructed for this purpose, but more work needs to be done.)

For Central Maui, we proposed bringing the effluent via lines connecting the Kahului Wastewater

Reclamation Facility to the Central Maui Regional Park, then on to the 300-acre park and county baseyards being planned in the Waiko area for their irrigation needs. (We purchased this land when I was mayor.) We also proposed moving the Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility closer to areas where we could reuse more of the water. We also proposed using the effluent for agricultural irrigation.

For West Maui, we proposed expanding the reuse capability at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility by installing a better solids removal system to make the reuse water even cleaner. Given enough funds and time, we could install reuse lines for all West Maui parks from Kapalua to Launiupoko and beyond, as well as more areas in Central and South Maui.

Remember that we live on an island. The effluent needs to go somewhere. Eventually, no matter what we do, it ends up in the ocean. We can, however, treat it as much as is practically reasonable, before releasing it back into the ocean.

If the environmental groups have better solutions, they should make these suggestions. Going back to ocean outfalls will only add to the miles of plastics and other contaminants already polluting our oceans.

In this case, going backward is not better for our environment.

* Alan Arakawa was a Grade 4 wastewater plant supervisor and was elected to three terms as mayor of Maui County — in 2002, 2010 and 2014.