Hawai’i Island’s Wastewater — Problems, Plans, Clean Water?

April 20, 2017
6pm   -   8pm
West Hawai'i Civic Center, Council Chambers

Contaminented beach waterIs Hawaii County violating the U.S. Clean Water Act, polluting West Hawaii’s marine and reef environments?  A 2008 U.S. Geological Survey report found Kealakehe effluent seeping into Honokohau Harbor and surrounding coastal areas.

Near Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Honokohau Harbor, surrounded by reddish brown lava rock and a chain link fence, is a County sign “Do Not Enter”.  Here lies a little known pond fringed by greenery and that is fed by pipelines which gush out at the rate of about 1.7 million gallons daily so-called gray water — the beginning point and not final destination of treated sewage from the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant in Kona.wastewater

County officials have intended to build a reclamation plant for the water, as well as additional waste water transmission lines for nearly two decades, but without results. County plans currently call for (what many in the Community consider long overdue) waste treatment plant upgrades that include cleaning up wastewater effluent to a R-1 classification producing recycled water clean enough for irrigation purposes within the Kona area. The immediate treatment objective is to drastically reduce the discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus — two nutrients that can be harmful if they get into groundwater, eventually finding its way into West Hawaii’s marine ecosystem with substantial and harmful environmental results.

Th County claims to have identified several sites ready to use the so-called recycled R-1 water for their irrigation systems, including Old Kona Airport, the Kohanaiki development and a buffer area around the treatment plant. Availability of the recycled water is projected for mid-2019. Demand for recycled water from the identified initial users is also projected to take about half the treated water.

Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant in Kona (2014)

Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant in KonaFuture West Hawai’i development may tighten the gap between treated water and demand. With additional upgrades, such as the construction of wetlands and a soil aquifer treatment system, further water treatment is possible for release back into the ground.  The addition of wetlands add the value of naturally treating waste water by removing nutrients and other impurities.  It was reported that an environmental impact statement preparation notice was released Thursday (3/24/17) and indicates the planned wetlands will be “appropriate for Hawaiian native plant species.”

Public comments on the proposed upgrades are scheduled for April (2017).

County is still facing considerable planning and project design efforts to meet pre-construction requirements.  Potential construction delays can be costly to taxpayers, both in terms of access to shrinking Federal and state financial assistance. Recently proposed White House budget roll-backs to EPA and other agencies may impact the County’s plans and the availability of Federal funding assistance as proposed Trump Administration proposed funding cuts target environmental protection and pollution migration projects — with potential implications for current and future State and County environmental infrastructure projects.final - Plan Graphic

Of particular concerned is the now closed window of opportunity for funding in which Hawaii County failed to secure $16 million in funding from the state’s revolving fund via the Department of Health in order to pay for needed sewage system upgrades.   Yet, the environmental costs of inaction also continue to add up as waste water pollution problems mount with growing population pressures on Hawai’i Island.

Join the Community for this important forum as we learn about our island’s options in addressing a shared pollution problem with ramifications for the Community’s overall growth management and sustainability goals.

This forum took place on April 20, 2017, at 6pm at West Hawai'i Civic Center, Council Chambers.

To learn more about each Forum featured speaker, click onto the presenter's name listed below their picture.


This event was moderated by:


The event's featured speakers were:

William Kucharski
Director, Department of Environmental Management, Hawai'i County
Rick Gaffney
President, Rick Gaffney & Associates, Inc.

Speaker Presentation Materials

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Subject Support Materials

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Forum Session Video

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