The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Hawaii Attorney General's Office, and the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) have reached an interim agreement with the City and County of Honolulu (CCH) that will correct the most significant problems in Honolulu's wastewater collection system. This settlement resolves a civil enforcement action that the United States and the state have filed against CCH.
"Today's settlement shows a commitment by the City and County of Honolulu to protect human health by making significant improvement to its wastewater system," said Matthew J. McKeown, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased to have worked cooperatively with our federal and state partners to reach this important settlement."
"This agreement will result in measures by the city to prevent catastrophic spills from Oahu's most vulnerable sewage pipes," said Wayne Nastri, the EPA's administrator for the Pacific Southwest region. "We will continue to work with the city to improve its wastewater system."
"This settlement is an important step in improving Honolulu's waste water management, and we look forward to further steps by the city," said Laurence Lau, DOH deputy director for environmental health. "Improvements will happen faster when the city, state, and United States agree on the work to be done."
The city's sewage collection system for Oahu contains numerous force mains. Force mains are pressurized pipes, which carry sewage from residences, as well as commercial and industrial sources, to wastewater treatment plants. The EPA, DOH and the city analyzed these force mains and concluded that force mains at six locations were most vulnerable to future failure: Beachwalk, Ala Moana, Hart Street, Kaneohe/Kailua, Waimalu and Kahala.
As in other cities, the force mains in Honolulu are a critical link in the network of pipes that convey sewage to the city's wastewater treatment plants. Since force mains operate under pressure, even a small break can result in a large spill and a lengthy repair job. Unlike gravity flow pipes, force mains cannot carry sewage flow during the repair process. In the event a break occurs in a large volume force main and no backup is available, there is often no alternative but to release the untreated sewage to nearby waterways.
On March 24, 2006, Honolulu's Beachwalk force main burst, spilling approximately 50 million gallons of sewage. For five days before repairs could be made, the city pumped raw sewage into the Ala Wai canal, which runs into the Pacific Ocean. Contamination from this event resulted in high levels of bacteria in coastal waters, and led to the closure of beaches in Waikiki for one week. This interim settlement is intended to prevent repeated large force main spills. The settlement requires Honolulu to:
- Construct new replacement force mains at Ala Moana, Beachwalk and Kaneohe/Kailua.
- Assess the condition of six vulnerable force mains, and begin implementation of necessary repairs to prevent future sewage spills.
- Conduct a condition assessment of the Beachwalk pump station to determine whether repairs or replacement of the pump station is necessary.
- Submit within a year, site-specific spill contingency plans for each of the six vulnerable force mains.
- Provide for back-up force mains at four of these force mains at Beachwalk, Ala Moana, Kaneohe/Kailua, and Hart Street.
The current agreement is an interim settlement because it addresses only some of the problems in CCH's wastewater collection system. In addition to the force mains addressed in the agreement, CCH's wastewater collection and treatment system includes many other features, which are the subject of other regulatory processes and legal proceedings. The next step will be for federal and state governments to try to reach a comprehensive resolution to CCH's remaining wastewater collection and treatment challenges.
The settlement, lodged in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, will be available for a 30-day public comment period before the U.S. seeks court approval of the settlement. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.