HONOLULU (AP) — A recent study confirms liquid flows through wells used by a Maui wastewater plant into the ocean via underwater springs close to shore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday.
University of Hawaii researchers conducted the study amid concerns from officials and environmentalists that coral reefs and the ocean are being harmed by treated wastewater pumped into the injection wells by the Lahaina plant.
Earlier this year, four community groups sued Maui County, saying millions of gallons of wastewater injected into wells at the facility each day surface off Kahekili Beach Park, killing coral and triggering outbreaks of invasive algae.
The Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility disposes of 3 to 5 million gallons of treated wastewater daily through four injection wells that send fluid deep underground.
In the study, researchers put a tracer substance into the injection wells near the Kaanapali coast. They later detected the tracer coming out of underwater springs less than 30 yards from the shoreline.
EPA Pacific Southwest Region ground water office manager David Albright said the study doesn’t say the wells are the cause of coral reef decline. More research is needed on this issue, he said.
“To establish that there’s a direct hydrologic link between the injection wells and the very shallow coastal seeps is an important step,” Albright said. “It just doesn’t say that that’s therefore the cause of the problem. There’s no causal link being established here at all.”
The EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Health paid for the study, which began in July 2011.
Albright said a final report would be issued next July encompassing the conclusions announced Friday along with other data that’s being collected.
The injection wells have a permit from the EPA, which expired but was administratively extended.