Community and experts collaborate to find solutions to water pollution

Community members, Maui County reps, environmental organizations, State and Federal agencies participated in a Saving Our Reefs: Pollution Solutions workshop offered by Maui Nui Marine Resource Council to address impaired water quality in Maui County. The purpose of the workshop was to consider new information regarding water quality in South Maui as it relates to coral reefs and other marine organisms, to understand impacts of degraded water quality to marine life, to clearly understand the problem, consider solutions, and develop recommendations.

The workshop was prompted by a recently published scientific paper, The influence of wastewater discharge on water quality in Hawai’i: A comparative study for Lahaina and Kihei, Maui, presented at the workshop by its authors, Mailea Miller-Pierce and Neil Rhoads. ( Using data collected by Hawaii State Department of Health they compared water quality in Kihei and Lahaina and noted decreased water quality in the proximity of injection wells.

Other speakers included Dr. Eric Brown, National Park Service, who explained the impact of wastewater on coral reef ecosystems, particularly the ability for coral to spawn and for larva to survive. Dr. Daniel Amato, UHM, linked land use to coral reef health in Hawaii with an emphasis on the hydrological processes, which influence reef ecology. Steve Parabicoli, retired Superintendent of Maui County’s Wastewater Reclamation Division, provided a compelling overview of Kihei’s wastewater treatment facility. The workshop program  includes the abstract of each presentation and short presenter biographies.

With Hawaii State Department of Health data indicating that there are more impaired waters on Maui than any other island in the State, there is an urgent need to better understand the impact of wastewater and land-based pollutants to our reefs, and to improve water quality standards and monitoring efforts. The workshop attendees worked together to define the problem, develop a list of possible solutions and a set of recommendations for actions including:

  1. Conduct a feasibility study of best practices from around the world for treatment and use of wastewater, with associated costs. Determine the best fit for Maui and then make recommendations to the County of Maui.
  2. Identify the various sources of pollution to our reefs (wastewater, groundwater, stormwater, construction runoff, etc.) and the amount they’re contributing both in volume and in impact to the reefs.
  3. Reduce nutrient levels in the water through enhanced regulations, including increased water quality monitoring and improved thresholds.
  4. Mobilize the community, visitor industry, county and state in efforts to improve water quality.

The workshop was attended by a broad base of Maui residents and was led by the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC) and members of MNMRC’s Maui Coral Reef Recovery Team. The MNMRC will work through its Clean Water Committee and with its partners to initiate and support efforts to improve water quality on Maui. Volunteers for a citizen scientist water quality monitoring program are currently being recruited and trained. Contact the MNMRC for more information on how to become a water quality monitor in your area.

Maui Time’s Anthony Pignataro continues for follow the story in a recent column: Maui Nui Marine Resource Council hosting all-day workshop on Kihei water quality