Advocates launch nonprofit group to rid Hawaii of cesspools

HONOLULU — A pair of environmental advocates has launched an organization to help rid Hawaii of cesspools that threaten public health and the marine environment.

Wastewater Alternatives and Innovations plans to help the state address sewage pollution by finding ways to convert cesspools to effective treatment systems, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

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Stuart Coleman left his position as Hawaii manager of the Surfrider Foundation to devote his efforts to assist the state and homeowners with cesspool conversion.

He teamed with John Anner of the Coral Reef Alliance to start the nonprofit organization.

Anner previously operated an international nonprofit group that sought solutions to wastewater issues in Southeast Asian countries.

Coleman was first alerted to the state’s sewage pollution problem when Honolulu diverted 48 million gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal after a sewage line ruptured. The spill forced the city to temporarily close beaches in Waikiki.

There are about 88,000 cesspools across the state releasing 53 million gallons of raw sewage into the groundwater daily. About 90% of Hawaii’s drinking water comes from groundwater, state officials said.

Untreated wastewater from cesspools contains pathogens that can cause gastroenteritis, hepatitis A, conjunctivitis, leptospirosis, salmonella, and cholera.

The cost of cesspool upgrades can range from $20,000 to $30,000, officials said.

“I think people recognize this is an important issue and we’re one of the only organizations that’s dedicated to it exclusively in helping to solve the problem,” Coleman said.

The state passed a 2016 statewide cesspool ban and legislation to provide tax credits to assist homeowners with cesspool upgrades.

“The bottom line is our state depends on tourism and we just can’t afford to have dirty water because it affects our health, our environment and our basic economy,” Coleman said.

Coleman also serves as a member of the state’s cesspool conversion working group tasked with developing a long-range, comprehensive plan to replace all cesspools of any size by 2050.

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Several bills have been introduced in the current legislative session to help the state reach the 2050 deadline.

“The goal is to get rid of all the cesspools,” Anner said. “There’s no one solution that will work for everybody.”

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