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Hawai'i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20027
Nos. 12-00198, (D. Haw., 01/23/2015) (Mollway, J.)

A district court held that a Hawaiian county violated the CWA by discharging effluent without a NPDES permit at two of four injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. At issue was whether the discharges were from a point source. The county argued that when a single point source does not discharge pollutant directly into navigable waters, liability under the CWA does not arise unless the pollutant passes through point sources along the entire pathway it travels. But the court was unpersuaded by the county's reading of the CWA. None of the cases cited by the county actually holds that a pollutant's indirect journey to navigable waters must be through a series of point sources. Moreover, it would be nonsensical to regulate a polluter that discharges effluent to the ocean through a series of sequential point sources, while exempting a polluter that discharges the same effluent through a combination of an initial point source and subsequent nonpoint sources. In both situations, pollutants are discharged into navigable waters from point sources, and there is no basis for distinguishing between the two. Because the environmental groups that filed suit against the county established the point source requirement, and because there is no dispute regarding any of the other elements necessary for CWA liability, the court held the county liable for the unpermitted discharges.