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HONOLULU (July 21, 2022) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it is accepting comments on a proposed revision to the Administrative Order on Consent (Order) requiring the County of Hawai‘i (County) to close five illegal large capacity cesspools (LCCs) in the Pāhala and Nāʻālehu neighborhoods on the Big Island. The proposed revision will require the County to evaluate multiple wastewater treatment options to replace the LCCs.

In June 2017, EPA and the County voluntarily entered into an Order that required closure of five LCCs – pollution-causing cesspools which are illegal under federal law – that serve the Pāhala and Nāʻālehu communities. However, after missing a deadline that led to a $28,500 fine late last year, the County realized that the previously proposed wastewater treatment plants had technical challeneges and that the communities had significant concerns. 

“The County of Hawai‘i is required to shut down the LCCs serving the Pāhala and Nāʻālehu communities,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “Beyond these cesspool closures, EPA is working closely with the County to support both short-term and long-term wastewater planning. Providing appropriate wastewater treatment for Pāhala and Nāʻālehu is just one part of how the County will meet critical wastewater infrastructure needs for the protection of human health and water resources on the Big Island.”

EPA is now proposing to revise the existing Order to allow the County additional time to solicit public input and evaluate the feasibility of wastewater treatment options that would protect surface water and underground sources of drinking water. Examples of these treatment options include decentralized wastewater systems (e.g. septic systems) or pre-manufactured wastewater treatment facilities (e.g. package plants). Based on the initial feasibility scoping, the County will be required to conduct an environmental review, solicit feedback from the public on wastewater treatment options, and select a preferred option. The requirements of the proposed revision to the Order are consistent with the requirements of the State Environmental Review Process.

The proposed revision to the Order will require the County to close the two LCCs serving the community of Pāhala  by July 21, 2026, and the three LCCs serving the community of Nāʻālehu by December 31, 2027. In addition, to ensure that the public is kept informed on the status of the respective closure projects, the proposed revision will require the County to hold semiannual community meetings and maintain a Pāhala and Nāʻālehu LCC Cesspool Closure Projects webpage.

Public comments on the proposed revision to the Order will be accepted until Saturday, August 20, 2022.

An LCC is a cesspool serving multi-unit residential homes, a non-residential facility with the capacity to serve 20 or more people per day, or a home business. LCCs were banned under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in April 2005. Since the 2005 LCC ban, more than 3,600 LCCs in Hawaii have been closed; however, hundreds remain in operation.

Cesspools collect and discharge untreated raw sewage into the ground, where disease-causing pathogens and harmful chemicals can contaminate underground sources of drinking water, streams, and the ocean. Groundwater provides 95% of all domestic water in Hawaii.

For more information on how to provide comments.

For more information on this specific agreement.

For more information on the LCC ban.

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