Health Department hears water quality concerns

As the state Department of Health works on the first update to its water quality plan since 1990, most people commenting during a public meeting Tuesday were concerned about a single aspect of the multifaceted plan — the impact of wastewater on water quality and what should be done about it.

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As the state Department of Health works on the first update to its water quality plan since 1990, most people commenting during a public meeting Tuesday were concerned about a single aspect of the multifaceted plan — the impact of wastewater on water quality and what should be done about it.

Proposals to prohibit new cesspools and require cesspools be replaced with septic tanks when property is sold are just part of the 115-page draft water quality plan that also includes new water quality monitoring initiatives, reducing unpermitted underground injection wells, prioritizing impaired watersheds for restoration and completing guidelines for treatment and reuse of recycled water.

“Climate change is also a challenge, particularly when it pertains to … an increase in salinity in drinking water wells,” said Caroline Ishida, with the Health Department’s Environmental Planning Office. “It’s important to increase wastewater reuse … reuse of wastewater to secure our drinking water supply.”

Ishida said the department hopes to have the plan finalized by June.

Ishida encouraged members of the public concerned about proposed rules on cesspools in particular to attend a rules-making public hearing set for 10:30 a.m. Oct. 2. Details about that meeting, the specific wording of the proposed rules and how to comment in writing can be found online at health.hawaii.gov/wastewater/home/public_notice.

Most of those attending Tuesday’s session in Hilo were state and county environmental officials. The Hilo site was one of three neighbor island sites set up by videoconference with the meeting held in Honolulu.

Many neighbor island attendees pushed for the Health Department to hold in-person meetings on the other islands as well, as the issues are of such importance, especially pertaining to cesspools.

There are currently 90,000 cesspools in the state. The majority, some 50,000, are located on the Big Island. In addition, almost 14,000 are on Kauai, more than 12,000 are on Maui, more than 11,000 are on Oahu and more than 1,400 are on Molokai. Each year an additional 800 new cesspools are approved for construction, according to the Health Department.

Kona Realtor Rick Vidgen requested that meetings also be held on the west side of the island, saying it’s a 100-mile drive each way for people to attend meetings.

“I think the people in Kona are very impacted and very interested in this issue, and (information) is not being provided,” he said.

Realtors and builders are especially concerned with the proposed cesspool rules, saying it could add $10,000 to the cost of a new home.

The 115-page plan can be viewed at health.hawaii.gov/water/files/2014/09/2014-doh-draft-water-quality-plan.pdf.

The department says the northeast coast and west coast of Hawaii Island from Hualalai to south of Captain Cook have elevated risk of harm to coastal waters and drinking water. Hilo has high concentrations of on-site disposal systems.

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The Keaau/Mountain View District has an even higher concentration of on-site disposal systems — 50 percent higher than the level the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers “high density,” the report states.

The department says it found a “troubling rate” of human waste bacteria detection (fecal coliform) in 12 percent of the 57 drinking water well samples collected in Hawaii Paradise Park. Pahoa, Kapoho, Pahala, Naalehu, Hawaiian Ocean View Estates and Waimea are also areas of elevated risk.

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