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Sumps – holes in the ground where untreated human waste is deposited – create problems largely out of sight and out of mind on the islands. About half of the 88,000 sumps estimated statewide pose a risk to our water resources, including drinking water, streams and coastal waters.
The Wastewater Branch of the Hawaii Department of Health estimates that this substandard disposal system throughout the state releases some 53 million gallons of wastewater into the ground daily, containing pathogenic pathogens. and nourishing nutrients the algae.
In response, essential state legislation (Law 125) was enacted in 2017 requiring “the upgrade, conversion or connection to sewers” of all sumps by 2050. But to meet this deadline, underlines the organization Nonprofit Wastewater Alternatives & Innovations (WAI), the state will need to increase its current rate of sump fixes from 200 to 3,000 per year.
The replacement effort has been slow, in part because of a high price tag. After Bill 125 came into effect, the Department of Health estimated the cost at $ 1.75 billion, or about $ 20,000 for each fix. Among the compliance options, extending sewer lines to rural areas is probably the most expensive and disruptive.
In single-family properties, the installation of a septic system or an aerobic treatment unit – purification of wastewater by aeration and microbes – requires a septic field, which eliminates pathogens. WAI notes that obstacles can include lack of sufficient land for a leaching field, and a cost of over $ 25,000, if a house is near a body of water.
Given the heavy loads required to better protect Hawaii’s public health and environment, it is encouraging to see that innovative wastewater technology is generating promising replacement options, such as a waterless toilet.
An electric / gas model, the Cinderella Incinerating Toilet ($ 4,500), is touted as a system that burns all toilet waste at high temperatures to produce ashes that are odorless and free from pathogens. This option could particularly benefit rural communities that are unlikely to soon be connected to a county sewer system.
In Oahu, pilot incinerator toilets are underway at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island and at a farm in Kuilima on the North Shore. In addition, WAI is working with the State Department of Lands and Natural Resources to locate them in Kokee and the Kalalau Valley in Kauai.
Lawmakers must now look for ways to speed up elimination – an effort launched nearly three decades ago, when the state banned new cesspools in Kauai and Oahu, most of Maui, Lanai and parts of Molokai and the Island of Hawaii. .
Another law, Law 120 (2015), which created a replacement cost income tax credit program, expired in December. Lawmakers should consider launching additional incentive programs, especially to help low-income landowners.
Additionally, Hawaii, which has long been among the states with the most sumps, could make headway by responding to WAI’s call for regulations requiring the outdated system to be replaced before a home is sold.
In Rhode Island, which also has a high number of sumps, a point-of-sale provision gets things done. New cesspools were banned there over 50 years ago. Phasing out, however, was slow until six years ago, when the state adopted a policy requiring the disposal of a sump after the sale of a property. The buyer or seller pays for the upgrade, which can be part of the overall negotiation of the sale.
Hawaii values stewardship of natural resources. So much so that the State Constitution requires that we have “the right to a clean and healthy environment”. This pollution problem is overdue for a strengthened mitigation vision, with the support of the state and counties.