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Hawaii Wildlife Fund v. Maui, City of

ELR Citation: 48 ELR 20016
Nos. 15-17447, (9th Cir., 02/01/2018)

The Ninth Circuit held that Maui County is liable for illegally discharging treated wastewater that seeped through groundwater into the Pacific Ocean. The County owns and operates four wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility (“LWRF”), the principal municipal wastewater treatment plant for West Maui. Initially the wells were constructed to serve as a backup disposal method for water reclamation, but they have since become the County’s primary means of effluent disposal. In 2013, EPA conducted a tracer dye study on Wells 2, 3, and 4 to gather data on, among other things, the “hydrological connections between the injected treated wastewater effluent and the coastal waters.” A district court held the County liable as to Wells 3 and 4 for discharging effluent through groundwater and into the ocean without a permit. The County contended that the indirect nature of the discharge does not subject it to the CWA and therefore did not require a NPDES permit. The court, in keeping with its "sister circuits," held that an indirect discharge from a point source to a navigable water suffices for CWA liability to attach. The lower court ruling was upheld.