Environment News Service (ENS)

Honolulu Must Address Problems That Led to Waikiki Sewage Spill

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

WASHINGTON, DC (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. EPA, the Hawaii Attorney General's Office, and the Hawaii Department of Health have reached an interim agreement with the City and County of Honolulu that will correct the worst problems in Honolulu's wastewater collection system.

This settlement resolves a civil enforcement action that the United States and the state have filed against the City and County of Honolulu.

'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.

On March 24, 2006, a major Waikiki sewage pipe burst, spilling 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 sewage spills.

'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, Hawaii 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 pressurized pipes, called force mains, which carry sewage from residences, as well as commercial and industrial sources, to wastewater treatment plants.

Because 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 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.

Personnel from federal, state and city agencies analyzed these force mains and concluded that force mains at six locations are most vulnerable to future failure, both within Waikiki and at other locations on the island of Oahu.

The settlement requires Honolulu to repair the six most vulnerable force mains, provide backup force mains at four of the locations, construct some replacement force mains, assess a pump station, and submit within a year, site-specific spill contingency plans for each of the six vulnerable force mains.

The current agreement is an interim settlement because it addresses only some of the problems in Honolulu's wastewater collection system.

As a next step, the federal and state governments will attempt to reach a comprehensive resolution to Honolulu's remaining wastewater collection and treatment challenges.

The settlement, lodged today in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, is available for a 30-day public comment period before the federal government seeks court approval of the settlement.

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