HILO >> Community members are pressing Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim to do something about the contamination from cesspools leaking into the nearby sea.
The county Environmental Management Commission is working to find a cost-effective solution for the communities in Kailua-Kona and Puako.
Sewer improvement districts are usually the solution, but Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski said the problem with Puako is it will cost much more than the $6.5 million Lono Kona community sewer project.
Kucharski estimates constructing a sewer system for 643 households will cost between $14 million and $15 million.
He said that is $600 to $800 monthly per house, West Hawaii Today reported.
Erosion is eating away the makai land and leaving no room for septic systems. If the area were to connect to a sewer system, a sewer treatment plant would also have to be built. Kucharski said that would be a sizable project.
“This has been going on the 40 odd years I’ve been on this island; this has been a topic of discussion even before the commission existed,” said Commission Chairman James Fritz. “Yesterday would have been better. This is still realistically years away.”
Commissioner Jon Olson thinks the county should forge ahead and address it.
“Eventually, water quality will sink to a point where we will incur federal sanctions. We will do it anyway, under the gun,” Olson said. “It isn’t going to get any less painful than it is now.”
The groundwater table in Puako is near the surface, and wastewater seeps into the ocean from the cesspools, according to the South Kohala Community Development Plan. This environmental degradation will continue unless a permanent solution to treat and dispose of wastewater is found.
“The amount of untreated wastewater entering the ocean needs to be reduced,” the plan stated. “The county general plan specifically calls for the construction of a sewerage system for the Puako Beach Lots and that the sewerage system should utilize the existing resort wastewater treatment plant. Action to protect the marine resources off Puako’s coast needs to occur sooner rather than later. Delaying action may result in severe damage to the marine environment that may not be able to be undone.”
Federal regulations ban gang cesspools, which are cesspools shared by a group of dwellings or buildings containing multiple residents or serving multiple people.
More than half of the state’s approximately 90,000 cesspools are on the Big Island.