Residents of a small town on Hawaii Island are threatening to sue a large dairy operation over worries that fecal matter from farm animals is polluting the local drinking water supply.
Big Island Dairy is an operation with about 2,000 cows just uphill from O'okala, a small town on the Hamakua Coast in an area northwest of Hilo.
Residents there say the problems began back in 2014.
"What happened was that we had storms come in, and that actually washed down mud material and feces thru the camps of Ookala," Genard Frazier said.
Frazier is part of Kupale O'okala, a community group that sent a letter to the dairy last month threatening a federal lawsuit if it doesn't clean up the area -- and stop dumping feces.
They say water testing in the area shows dangerously high levels of fecal bacteria.
"The biggest worry is the water. They're contaminating the water so bad, now that our water table is right there," Frazier said.
For several years, residents say the dairy has polluted water in the area by dumping liquid and solid cow manure into streams that end up in the ocean. Homeowners also allege the dairy is also building a production facility at the site without the proper construction permits.
Residents want it stopped.
"They've been sending fecal matter into the rivers, which is now out in the oceans, and so for me, myself and most of the community, we grew up gathering food from the rivers, fishing in the oceans, hunting the grounds," said Frazier. "So now, with all this bacteria that's in the water, that really puts a hinder on what our lifestyle is."
In the letter to the company, activists allege the dairy has violated, and continues to violate, the federal Clean Water Act. They're giving the dairy 60 days to address the concerns and fix the on-going discharge issues, or else they'll take the dairy to federal court.
"Each time a discharge is proven, or each time they fail to comply with a reporting requirement, those violations are subject to a $51,000 dollar (fine) per day, per violation," Frazier says. "If they don't control what they're doing now or clean up what they're doing, the longevity for O'okala is looking pretty bleak."
Calls to management at Big Island Dairy went unanswered. In the past, the dairy has also declined to comment on similar stories.