Nature is offering up the unmistakeable signs of spring: abundant gardenia; kolea (plovers) dressed in their regal black mating attire, preparing for the long flight back to the tundra; and the first glimmers of daylight by 5:10 a.m., which is why I was out walking early with the dogs and just so happened to see the waning moon, a golden crescent cupping a pale white disc, floating above the treetops in a parfait-layered sky of pink, blue, orange and gray.
I never really thought much about what happened to sewage effluent in Hawaii until several months ago, when I learned Earthjustice was preparing litigation over the practice of using injection wells to pump semi-treated wastewater into the ground. The complaint was filed Monday, and though it targets Maui County's Lahania sewage plant, it could have ramifications for wastewater treatment through the state — even the nation — as effluent injection wells are commonly used in the Islands.
I was curious where such wells are on located on Kauai, and county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka helpfully got me this answer:
According to Ed Tschupp, Chief of the Wastewater Division, three (3) of our County wastewater treatment plants use injection wells: 1) Eleele plant (4 wells) where injection well disposal is our only effluent disposal means; 2) Back-up disposal to irrigation re-use at Līhu‘e plant (7 wells); and 3) Waimea plant (2 wells).
Though I don't know if the same problems are being created by injection wells here, the Maui lawsuit raises several concerns. First, the 3-to-5 million gallons of semi-treated wastewater pumped into the Lahaina wells each day isn't staying put. University of Hawaii researchers found it's entering the ocean at Kahekili within three months through freshwater seeps. What's more, they were able to track a specific type of nitrogen found in the algae growing on the reef there, and positively identify it as the same type of nitrogen being pumped into the injection wells.
In response to fears that the wastewater could be carrying harmful human pathogens, the EPA is making Maui County treat the wastewater more thoroughly with ultraviolet radiation by 2013. But disinfecting for bacteria and pathogens doesn't address the other chemicals and drugs now found in sewage, nor does it remove the nitrogen, which contributes to invasive algae blooms that can smother a reef.
Sea turtles in Hawaii now feed almost exclusively on that invasive algae, and NOAA ecologist Kyle Van Houtan thinks there is a link between the algae's high nitrogen content and the often fatal turmors that develop in honu. As a National Geographic article describes it:
When turtles eat the seaweed, arginine awakens dormant herpes viruses in the turtles' bodies that generate the tumors.
While we're on the topic of crappy situations, I happened to run across a little blurb in Marine Corps Times about how Hawaii-based Marines and drones are now being used for drug interdiction in Afghanistan. Seems the plan is not to destroy opium poppy fields outright, as that might alienate the farmers, but to go after stored stashes that are supposedly smuggled out prior to the harvest. Why not just pay the farmers to grow something else?
But there was something kind of fishy in the report of a recent raid:
Earlier this month, Marines used drones to track vehicles after they left a mobile bazaar, [Maj. Gen. David H.] Berger said. The smugglers eventually parked, hid their vehicles and walked nearly a mile away from them to get some sleep. A raid force with Lejeune’s 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, reached the vehicles at first light and found about 3,000 pounds of cocaine, opium and heroin.
Cocaine? Where did that come from, when coca leaves are grown in South America? As an interesting aside, when I did a bit of checking to see if coca was being grown in Afghanistan — it apparently is not — I discovered that Bolivian growers have developed a Roundup resistant strain of coca in response to the American-backed, multi-billion-dollar eradication effort in Columbia, which relies primarily on aerial applications of Monsanto's toxic herbicide. Except the growers created the resistance through cross-breeding in the fields, rather than through genetic engineering.
Always somebody one step ahead of the game. But no worries. The chemical companies have way stronger stuff than Roundup at the ready. Cause pretty soon farmers are gonna have to be using it in their GMO corn and canola fields, where the weeds have developed a similar resistance to herbicide.
To wrap up the crappy theme, the Senate has confirmed Ted Yamamura to the state Water Commission — one of the most powerful agencies in Hawaii — despite complaints that he does not meet legal requirements for the job. His nomination is yet another example of how Gov. Abercrombie has abandoned his environmental supporters and is clearly on the side of development, full steam ahead. As I recently reported previously in the Honolulu Weekly:
[Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorney Alan] Murakami also questioned Yamamura’s impartiality, noting that he supported Alexander and Baldwin’s water diversions on Maui when he was a member of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
“If confirmed, he would be regulating the very water diversion he had a direct hand in authorizing without regard for the law protecting streams and Hawaiian water rights,” Murakami said.
It's shaping up to be a nasty and protracted fight over water allocation.