Large-capacity cesspools were banned under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an agreement with the County of Hawaii to close seven large-capacity cesspools (LCCs) that serve the Pahala and Naalehu communities in Hawaii. The county will replace the cesspools with wastewater treatment systems approved by the Hawaii Department of Health.
In a separate action, EPA reached an agreement with Aloha Petroleum Ltd., requiring the company to pay a civil penalty of $57,500 for its operation of an LCC at its Aloha Island Mart convenience store and gas station in Captain Cook on the Big Island. EPA found that Aloha Island Mart operated an illegal LCC until 2014. Aloha Petroleum has since closed the non-compliant cesspool and replaced it with an approved wastewater system.
An LCC is a cesspool that serves multiple residential dwellings or a commercial facility with the capacity to serve 20 or more people per day. Cesspools collect and discharge waterborne pollutants like untreated raw sewage into the ground, where disease-causing pathogens can contaminate groundwater, streams and the ocean. LCCs were banned under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in April 2005.
The agreement with the County of Hawaii requires the closure of two LCCs serving the Pahala community, three LCCs serving the Naalehu community, and two LCCs serving the Pahala Elderly Apartments. Combined, the seven cesspools serve about 280 households.
“EPA and the County of Hawaii are taking important steps to close these banned cesspools and replace them with modern wastewater treatment systems,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s acting regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “These actions will protect Hawaii’s drinking water and coastal resources, as we seek to modernize Big Island water infrastructure.”
In the Pahala and Naalehu communities, the County has developed closure and replacement plans for the cesspools. Newly constructed secondary wastewater treatment facilities and updated collection systems will come online in 2021 for Pahala and in 2022 for Naalehu. Cesspools serving the Pahala Elderly Apartments will be closed by September 2018 and replaced with septic systems. The agreement also includes specific reporting requirements and allows for stipulated penalties should the county fail to meet agreed-upon deadlines.
Construction of the new treatment and disposal facilities will be financed in part with federal grants and low-interest loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan program. Under the agreement, an additional 95 properties in the Pahala and Naalehu communities not currently served by the LCCs will also be connected to the new county sewer systems.
Cesspools are used more widely in Hawaii than in any other state, despite the fact that 95% of all drinking water in Hawaii comes from groundwater sources. Since the federal LCC ban took effect in 2005, more than 3,000 large capacity cesspools have been closed state-wide, many through voluntary compliance.