HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal judge has ruled that Maui County illegally discharged treated sewage into two of its wells in Lahaina, in a ruling environmentalist say could cost the county up to $100 million.
The ruling on Friday comes after U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway found in May that the county violated the U.S. Clean Water Act when it discharged waste water into two other injection wells at its Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
"This environmental disaster has been going on for over 30 years," said David Henkin, staff attorney for Earthjustice, which represents several environmental groups that sued the county in 2012.
"This latest decision is a wake up call for the county to stop using the ocean as a sewer and to finally fix the problem."
Each day, the county discharges between 3.5 million to 5 million gallons of treated sewage into four injection wells at its Lahaina plant.
The sewage has been treated for solid waste and bacteria and can be used for commercial uses but isn't safe for drinking.
But environmentalist said it's illegal to inject the waters into the wells without the proper discharge permits.
They said that studies that show that the waste water eventually seeps into the ocean and have spawned algal blooms that suffocate coral.
"We've seen coral cover at Kahekili go from over 50 percent down to 30 percent now. This is a dramatic decline has happened in just the past few decades," Henkin said.
Henkin said the fines could go up to $150,000 per day, which could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars over an eight-year period.
Mollway's ruling did not specify any penalties. She will take up that matter in August.
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa said he doesn't expect expect to see a big fine because the county had applied for the necessary discharge permit more than a year ago.
"We're trying to reuse the water in different ways, increasing the lines to the hotels to the area for irrigation," he said.
"I don't believe there's going to be much of any fine because there's no negligence involved."
Henkin says that his clients would be willing to drop their lawsuit if the county commits to a plan that would invest more money in its infrastructure to recycle the treated sewage.