WAILUKU — An appeals court denied Maui County’s request for a full-panel review of its Feb. 1 decision that the county pumped treated wastewater into injection wells at its Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility for more than three decades, thereby violating the Clean Water Act.
“We’re pleased the 9th Circuit rejected this attempt by polluting industries to do an end run around the Clean Water Act,” Earthjustice staff attorney David Henkin said in a written announcement of the decision. “When Congress passed this landmark law to protect our nation’s waters, it did not create a loophole for Maui County to pollute the Pacific Ocean by using the groundwater underneath the Lahaina facility as a sewer.”
The county will appeal the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, County Communications Director Rod Antone said Friday.
The county has spent $94 million on wastewater treatment facilities to better clean water for it to be used for irrigation, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa said.
The Lahaina wastewater treatment plant processes about 4 million gallons of sewage daily, injecting unused water into four injection wells.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study in 2011 found that Lahaina wastewater flows into groundwater surfacing near Kahekili Beach, according to an Earthjustice announcement of the 9th Circuit decision. The upwelling of wastewater there has been linked to algae blooms that smother coral reefs and degrade marine ecosystems, the report said.
Earthjustice represents four Maui community groups: the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club-Maui Group, Surfrider Foundation and West Maui Preservation Association. The groups sued Maui County in 2012, the Maui News reported.
Earthjustice is looking to protect the sensitive coral reefs at Kahekili and beachgoers from pollution.
In its February ruling, now reaffirmed, 9th Circuit justices said that, “at bottom, this case is about preventing the county from doing indirectly that which it cannot do directly,” because it would need a Clean Water Act permit to dispose wastewater directly via an outfall into the ocean.
“To hold otherwise would make a mockery of the (Clean Water Act’s) prohibitions,” the justices said.