Under a new law, thousands of Hawaii homeowners may be eligible for a $10,000 tax credit to upgrade or convert their cesspool to a septic tank or an aerobic system. The state is trying to reduce water pollution from cesspools.
More than nine months after the Hawaii Department of Health put up caution signs at the Kahaluu Lagoon, workers are still trying to pinpoint possible sources of contamination. DOH officials said the pollution could be coming from overflowing cesspools. There are approximately 90,000 cesspools in Hawaii.
"Typically, they are around the shoreline areas that could contaminate the shoreline, the ocean, potential drinking water or groundwater resources as well, so it is a big concern, not only for us, but the EPA," said Keith Kawaoka, deputy director for Environmental Health.
The governor just signed a new law aimed at roughly 6,800 qualified cesspools in high-priority areas.
"A $10,000 credit for eligible residences or small, multiple dwellings that are within 200 feet near a water body surface or underground water body," explained Kawaoka.
The law sets aside $5 million annually in general funds for five years. Health officials are drafting the rules and expect to have a system in place by early next year.
"I've seen large capacity cesspools that are literally falling apart. They're caving in on the sides," said Roger Seibel, vice president of First Quality Building & Design. "$10,000 is huge. That is a great shot in the arm to get somebody motivated."
The Surfrider Foundation conducts monthly water quality testing. Members want the state to post permanent warning signs at several recreational spots that they say are dangerously polluted.
"In places on Kauai and on Oahu, we have chronically contaminated waters and very, very high bacteria counts, sometimes 100x higher than the acceptable limit," said president Stuart Coleman.
DOH officials said they're looking at the validity of the group's data and the quality control measures.
"Again, just because of where the cesspools may be located and concentrated, those potentially could be other areas of concern for us. We're limited by the resources we have, of course, but we're trying to do the best we can," said Kawaoka.