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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 30, 2010

Maui seeks re-use of wastewater

By Ilima Loomis
Maui News

WAILUKU, Maui The Maui County Council on Wednesday debated proposals to require the Department of Environmental Management to come up with a plan to recycle more wastewater and conduct sampling for water contamination before spending money to rehabilitate existing injection wells.

Councilman Wayne Nishiki introduced the proposal as an addition to the county's budget for fiscal year 2011. Under his plan, the department would have to fulfill the requirements before it could seek or spend the money it is requesting for the injection well upgrades.

Councilman Sol Kaho'ohalahala offered a similar plan, which would require Environmental Management to spend $250,000 of the money budgeted to carry out the water sampling, which he noted was ordered in January by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Department officials said they were already in the process of working with the EPA to comply with the order, and that the proposals being considered by the council could cost as much as $1 million.

The county needed to rehabilitate its existing injection wells, they added, or the treated effluent they are used to dispose of would have nowhere else to go.

Council members discussed the proposals, but took no action on them Wednesday.

The council's Budget and Finance Committee continued deliberating on the 2011 county budget, with a plan of completing its review by the end of the week. The full council has until the end of May to pass the county's annual spending plan, which will take effect July 1.

The Department of Environmental Management is requesting $2 million in bond money to rehabilitate existing injection wells, which push treated wastewater deep into the ground. The water is treated to "R2" levels before being disposed of, meaning it is considered safe enough to irrigate landscaping but not to drink.

Mayor Charmaine Tavares has pledged to eliminate the county's injection wells and find an alternate use of the wastewater. Last year, she formed a working group to study the issue.

But critics of the practice say she is not acting fast enough. They blame seepage from the wells for damage to nearby reefs and say contaminated water has caused infections in ocean users.

Nishiki's plan would make the $2 million funding contingent on the department conducting a study to increase wastewater recycling. Nishiki said the study should include a plan and timetable for the county to treat all wastewater dumped in injection wells to "R1" levels safe enough to irrigate food crops.

Wastewater Division Chief Dave Taylor noted the state Department of Health regulates and closely monitors the quality of the water disposed of in injection wells.