The Hawaiian words kai (seawater) and wai (fresh water) distinguish the difference, but today we have another type of “water,” often identified as wastewater, processed at county treatment plants. While this product is excellent for irrigation, probably better than fresh potable water, millions of gallons are injected into the ground daily to seep into the kai, seemingly to the detriment of our coral reef systems.
In Kïhei, this product is rated R-1, and processed at the plant just above Pi‘ilani Highway. After this plant was built, distribution pipes were installed taking the R-1 water to irrigate Kalama Park, both sides of Welakahou Road at the new Hope Chapel and the recycling center, Monsanto’s growing area and the golf course mauka of the highway. Why has this distribution stopped? Every drop of this commodity used for irrigation lessens the waste of the dwindling supply of fresh water. Why doesn’t HC&S use this on the sugarcane crop in South Maui instead of the diverted stream water from East Maui? Why aren’t the Wailea and Mäkena resorts and golf courses using this nitrogen-rich product for irrigation instead of fresh water, reducing the use of fertilizer?
After years of inactivity, some frustrated residents filed a lawsuit against the county to prohibit use of injection wells. An unfortunate result of this action is that the county administration is now prohibited from publicly addressing this concern, so no answers to these questions are forthcoming.
The general consensus is this wastewater seeping into the kai is one factor in the death of our priceless coral reef system, by fostering the wild growth of seaweed and algae that are choking the life from the coral.
If most of the treated wastewater was used for irrigation, rather than injected into the ground, would this eliminate Maui’s fresh water problems and save the reef systems? No, but this action coupled with other practical ones would do so.