State works toward closing of cesspools
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Staff Writer
Government agencies in Hawai'i are making progress in meeting an April 2005 federal deadline for closing large-capacity cesspools at beach parks, schools and other public facilities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ban on cesspools receiving untreated sewage from 20 or more people per day or daily flows exceeding 1,000 gallons is intended to protect drinking water and the nearshore ocean.
The EPA estimates there are 500 such cesspools in Hawai'i, mostly owned by the counties, the state or the federal government. But the ban also affects some restaurants, hotels, office complexes and former plantation neighborhoods.
"I think it's going to be a huge expense for the public sector," said Harold Yee, of the Health Department Wastewater Branch. "The number for the Big Island alone is close to 100 (sites)."
Hawai'i County expects to spend $5 million to $6 million meeting the EPA deadline to close cesspools at more than 80 parks, gyms and community centers, and install alternative sewage systems, said Pat Engelhard, Parks and Recreation director.
In Honolulu, the city will spend close to $4 million over three years to convert cesspools at 16 beach parks, including Hale'iwa, Nanakuli, Waimanalo and Sandy Beach. More than half are either in the design or construction phase or have been completed, said city spokeswoman Carol Costa.
Cesspools are covered pits that receive piped sewage. The solids settle to the bottom while the effluent passes into the surrounding soil. The EPA ban is meant to eliminate the potential for effluent to seep into groundwater or into swimming areas at beach parks.
Proper closure must be done under federal and state guidelines. The cost of closing and replacing large-capacity cesspools depends on the situation and the proximity to municipal sewer systems, Yee said. Alternatives include hooking up to available sewer laterals, installing a septic system or a wastewater package plant to treat the sewage before disposal into the ground.
Low-interest loans from a state revolving fund are available to the counties, but no aid is available for private owners.
Fines for failing to meet the deadline could be as high as $27,500 per day per violation, said Dean Higuchi, public affairs officer for the EPA in Hawai'i.
"It makes sense now to use your money to fix up or close your cesspool and hook up an alternative (rather) than to be fined," he said.
The EPA regulations do not apply to smaller cesspools, such as those serving single-family households. For information call the EPA's Shannon FitzGerald toll-free at (866) 372-9378.