Honolulu Must Upgrade Sewage Treatment, Pay $1.6 Million Fine

HONOLULU, Hawaii, August 10, 2010 (ENS) – Honolulu has reached a legal settlement with the federal and state governments and three environmental groups that will address Clean Water Act compliance of the city’s wastewater collection and treatment systems.

The centerpiece of the settlement is a comprehensive compliance schedule for the city to upgrade its wastewater collection system by June 2020.

The city will pay a total fine of $1.6 million to be split between the federal government and the state of Hawaii to resolve violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the state of Hawaii’s water pollution law.

The settlement resolves lawsuits brought by the Sierra Club, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends and Our Children’s Earth Foundation, as well as enforcement action by the Justice Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office, and the Hawaii Department of Health.

Contrary to its reputation as a vacation paradise, Honolulu has had major sewage problems, particularly the 2006 spill that flushed 48 million gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal that borders the hotels and condos of densely populated Waikiki and the Honolulu convention center. Smaller sewage spills are frequent.

With a resident population of over 900,000, and more than 485,500 visitors a month, Honolulu is the largest U.S. city that does not provide secondary sewage treatment. The EPA has warned the city government for years that it has been breaking environmental law by not treating sewage twice before sending it into the ocean through an outfall pipe.

Sand Island wastewater treatment plant with world-famous Diamond Head in the background (Photo courtesy Parsons)

Under the settlement agreed today, the Honouliuli wastewater treatment plant must be upgraded to secondary treatment by 2024.

The Sand Island wastewater plant will need to be upgraded by 2035, but could be extended to 2038 based on a showing of economic hardship.

City officials have said these upgrades could cost more than $1.2 billion.

Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, now a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said last year, “Providing full secondary treatment at Sand Island and Honouliuli wastewater treatment plants will drive monthly residential sewer fees as high as $300 in less than 20 years.”

“This settlement has many positive features, and among the biggest are the collection system improvements to prevent future major raw sewage discharges, as happened at the Ala Wai Canal in 2006,” said Laurence Lau, the State Department of Health’s deputy director for environmental health.

Work on the wastewater collection system will include rehabilitation and replacement of both gravity and force main sewer pipes, backup strategies to minimize the risks of force main spills, a cleaning and maintenance program, improvements to Honolulu’s program to control fats, oils and grease from entering into the wastewater system from food establishments, and repair to pump stations.

“This settlement will lead to significant improvements in water quality for the people of Oahu, and for the visitors to the island’s world-class beaches,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA administrator for the Pacific Southwest region.

“It calls for aggressive actions in the near term to upgrade the city’s sewage collection system, and set outs a longer term schedule for construction of secondary treatment at the Sand Island and Honouliuli plants,” he said. “The work is on a multi-year schedule to allow the city to spread out the costs of this critical program.”

Honolulu residents can expect to pay more in sewage fees. City officials did not release specific amounts but said rates will increase over time.

“Today’s settlement represents a significant commitment that will address the City and County of Honolulu’s aging wastewater collection and treatment systems,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“The end result will not just be an improvement to the system’s infrastructure,” Moreno said. “It will also significantly reduce both the public health risk caused by exposure to pathogens in raw sewage and the amount of harmful pollutants entering Honolulu’s vibrant marine environment.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.