EPA offers Honolulu a lose-lose proposition
The Hawaii Water Environment Association is Hawaii's leading organization recognized for preserving and enhancing our water environment. Most of our 480 members are experienced wastewater professionals: scientists, planners, engineers, laboratory technicians, equipment representatives and wastewater treatment plant, pump station and collections system operators. Our nonprofit, volunteer-based organization has supported a healthy water environment for more than 45 years.
For more than 20 years, we have observed proven-safe primary treatment at Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant with no measurable effects on human or marine life, or degradation of recreational waters.
Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a tentative decision that will require the City and County of Honolulu to upgrade that plant to full secondary treatment. HWEA opposes this huge expense because it will not improve our recreational water quality and will harm the environment in other ways.
Twenty years of research and data collection show no scientific evidence that demonstrates the need for more advanced treatment. Hawaii's scientific wastewater community believes secondary treatment will not improve our water environment. In fact, science suggests that EPA's tentative decision will increase production of greenhouse gases (widely believed to be a major contributor to global warming) and increased solids generation (which will contribute to our landfill challenges).
EPA's tentative decision will result in higher operations and maintenance costs, increased energy costs and an estimated $800 million capital improvement cost (plus debt service) ... all of which will result in higher sewer bills. And let's not forget about the tentative decision EPA made for the Honouliuli Wastewater Treatment Plant last year. That tentative decision, which also is based on poor science, could cost our taxpayers another $400 million in capital costs.
In the end, it's not about the money. It's about the preservation and enrichment of our environment: land, air and water. We need to make good environmental decisions, and the EPA has this one wrong.
Scientifically speaking, EPA wants the city to upgrade the facility to full secondary treatment when the process will not and cannot address the specific issues cited in their tentative decision: chlordane, dieldrin and ammonia. It's the equivalent to having open-heart surgery when all you have is a splinter in your finger.
Our mayor is committed to improving the city's aging wastewater collection system in order to reduce raw wastewater spills, as evidenced in the widely publicized Ala Wai Canal incident. This is where the city needs to focus its effort and resources. Improvements to our collection system will have a stronger impact on maintaining a healthy environment and protecting public health, not to mention sustaining Hawaii's leading economic industry -- tourism. Raw wastewater spills almost always result in beach closures and jeopardize the health and safety of our residents, visitors and marine habitat.
EPA's tentative decision will harm our environment and will cost taxpayers -- a true lose–lose proposition.
John H. Katahira is a professional civil engineer and the immediate past president of the Hawaii Water Environment Association.