HILO — Because of heavy rainfall during the past week, Ookala-based Big Island Dairy on Monday again discharged stormwater collected in its wastewater lagoons.
The dairy on Monday notified the state Department of Health about the discharge, said DOH spokeswoman Anna Koethe.
While the discharge was done in controlled release, similar to those previously conducted by the dairy, the amount of wastewater mixed with the stormwater is “substantially less, given the nearly complete reduction of cows in confinement,” she said.
The public was advised to stay out of Kaohaoha Gulch during the discharge.
Big Island Dairy owners in November said they would discontinue dairy and milk processing operations at the facility, which has been owned by Steve and Derek Whitesides since 2011 and is located on land leased from the state.
The latest discharge comes after the dairy and the DOH entered into an agreement as Big Island Dairy’s operations draw to a close. The agreement, signed at the end of March, was completed to address numerous discharges of wastewater containing manure from the dairy into state waters during the past two years that were documented by DOH.
Under the agreement, Big Island Dairy’s owners are required to terminate dairy operations, remove all cows from confinement on the site, clean and remove the existing wastewater system and pay $79,000 by June, either as an administrative penalty or to fund an environmentally beneficial project in the area.
“While the discharging is not part of the closing procedure, as previously stated, infrequent discharges resulting from periods of prolonged wet weather may be required until the wastewater lagoons are removed as required by the DOH issued (agreement),” Koethe said.
The dairy is required to report discharges, and additional penalties could be levied.
According to Koethe, the DOH will first review all facts before determining whether an additional penalty will be demanded.
“It’s mind-boggling that the Department of Health is continuing to allow them to operate in the face of the unlimited number of discharges that continue to happen,” said Ookala homeowner Charlene Nishida. “This is further proof that Ookala is not the place for this scale of an operation for a dairy.”
Residents of Ookala have long complained about releases of manure-laden water from the dairy into nearby gulches that run through or next to the community.
Most recently, an estimated 2 million gallons of wastewater mixed with stormwater were discharged from the dairy’s wastewater lagoons in February. Spills, discharges and overflows from the lagoons were also reported in April, May, August and December last year.
“It’s just a thorn that doesn’t go away,” said Ookala resident Genard Frazier. “We’ve been fighting this for a long time.”
By the end of March, Koethe said the dairy had 125 mature cows and 86 young cows in confinement, but by this week it was expected to have any remaining cows out of confinement and in pasture. At its peak, the dairy had more than 1,800 cows in confinement.
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