Kamehameha Schools, EPA sign cesspools agreement

  • Harman

HILO — Kamehameha Schools reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in which more than 3,000 properties owned by the educational trust will be audited to identify and close large-capacity cesspools.

The audit will span more than 365,000 acres throughout the state.

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“This historical agreement brings Hawaii one step closer to its goal of eliminating all cesspools statewide,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker in a news release Wednesday. “We hope Kamehameha Schools becomes the first of many landowners who pursue similar strategies, helping to protect Hawaii’s coastal and inland waters.”

According to the EPA, cesspools collect and discharge “waterborne pollutants,” such as untreated raw sewage, into the ground, where disease-causing pathogens can contaminate groundwater, streams and the ocean.

The federal government banned large-capacity cesspools in 2005, which makes closing all such cesspools an ongoing priority, the EPA said Wednesday.

More than 3,400 large-capacity cesspools have been closed statewide since the ban took affect.

Dean Higuchi, press officer for EPA Region IX, said the voluntary audits come after an inspection at Volcano Golf Course and Country Club found a large-capacity cesspool.

Kamehameha Schools owns the property, which is leased to Hawaii International Sporting Club Inc., and was fined $99,531 related to that cesspool for the violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to the agreement signed between the EPA and the trust.

“This is unique in that they came forward and said, ‘We’re going to audit and identify and close all of our (large-capacity cesspools),’” Higuchi said. “We’re hoping this starts a movement by other large landowners to look at similar strategies.”

Cesspools are more widely used in Hawaii than any other state, even though 95 percent of all drinking water in Hawaii comes from groundwater sources, the EPA said.

“Healthy ‘aina is core to the foundation of Native Hawaiian cultural identity and well-being,” said Marissa Harman, director of asset management on Hawaii Island for Kamehameha Schools. “With this agreement, Kamehameha Schools acknowledges its kuleana to steward ‘aina to preserve its resiliency and ensure that future generations will continue to have a relationship with the land that makes the Native Hawaiian people who they are.”

Kamehameha Schools spokeswoman Crystal Kua did not provide a specific number of properties that will be inspected on the Big Island.

The Big Island is home to about 297,000 acres, or 80 percent, of Kamehameha Schools’ land, she said, “so there’s a great number of properties on Hawaii Island that will be inspected and audited, just purely by numbers.”

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According to the agreement, inspections will be conducted in three phases: Oahu, Kauai/Maui/Molokai and the Big Island.

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