State evaluating info collected during wastewater discharge probe

HILO — The state Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch is evaluating information collected last month during an investigation into wastewater discharges from Big Island Dairy.

DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said Clean Water Branch staff conducted an investigation into the wastewater discharges that happened between May 6 and 9, and are evaluating that information before any determinations are made regarding next steps.

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“Concurrently, DOH staff is communicating directly with dairy management to find ways for (Big Island Dairy) to reduce the potential for any further discharges associated with dairy operations or in response to the wet weather local to the Ookala area,” she said.

The DOH is unable to comment about an investigation or potential enforcement while a case is being determined, Okubo said, but added that the investigation of the most recent wastewater discharges is one of the department’s top priorities.

Last month, the DOH asked the public to stay out of Alaialoa and Kaohaoha gulches in Ookala because storm water within both might be contaminated with animal waste.

Ookala residents have complained about manure from the dairy contaminating nearby gulches for the past several years.

A lawsuit alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act was filed in 2017 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

In a notice of violation and order issued in April 2017, the Clean Water Branch ordered corrective actions that included “ceasing the discharge of pollutants to state waters.”

The DOH fined the dairy $25,000 in May 2017 for unlawful discharge of wastewater.

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According to Okubo, the dairy paid the fine in full and did not contest the notice of violation. It is working to comply with the requirements of the past notice, she said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.