Raw Sewage Still Flowing Into Local Waterways Despite Legal Agreement

Randy Ching/Civil Beat

More than a year after a major settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the city of Honolulu to address the thousands of gallons of raw sewage that flow into Oahu’s waterways annually, the volume of spills has not abated.

The amount spilled in 2010 – the year that the consent decree was signed — and in 2011 is about equal. But it’s markedly higher than it was in 2007 through 2009. In fact, the amount spilled in 2011 is 80 times higher than in 2009.

Civil Beat analyzed six years of data provided by the city’s Department of Environmental Services.

Asked why the sharp increase, when the amount being spilled is supposed to be decreasing, Markus Owens, a spokesman for the environmental services department, said that the problem is because larger pipes, called force mains, are breaking.

“Normal spills involve pipes that are six to eight inches (in diameter), so the volume you are carrying is much less,” he said. “On the force mains, you are getting an entire community coming through that pump station.”

But he said it's not clear why there have been more breaks in the force mains. The city is required to monitor and upgrade these pipes as part of the settlement agreement, but it could take another 10 years before the system is fixed.

Ken Greenberg, who manages compliance with federal clean water laws for EPA’s Region 9, which includes Hawaii, said that the federal agency is aware of the situation.

“That absolutely concerns us,” he said, noting that heavy rains were contributing to the problems. Still, he said the city is in compliance with the terms of the agreement that outline system upgrades.

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