April 2007 Home   Newsletters

July 2007

July 2007

City EIS Ignores Bus Option (Jackie Parnell)
Testifying for Beaches (Pearl Johnson)
Do we Need Secondary Treatment for out Waste Water? (Jackie Parnell)
Welcome New Members
Directories Coming
Train for Emergencies
Counties Should Take Over Highways (Charles Carole)
Calendar of Events

Do we Need Secondary Treatment for out Waste Water?

The League has taken on the Mayor (and previous mayors) on a number of issues. But just because Mayor Hannemann is wrong on some things -- like rail transit -- does not mean that he isn't right about secondary treatment. There is no environmental benefit to be gained from secondary treatment of sewage that is discharged into deep ocean waters. The waiver clause wasn't put in the Water Quality Act as a favor to anybody; it was recognition that all receiving waters are not the same. A law designed for Mainland rivers and a shallow continental shelf does not apply to the deep coastal waters off Oahu.

Hardly anybody seems to understand what secondary treatment is or does. They think primary, secondary, tertiary is the same as good, better, best. This is pretty much true if the discharge goes into freshwater lakes or shallow bays. But not into deep ocean waters.

The critical point that everyone seems to be missing is that primary treatment with disinfection treats the sewage. Period. And, unless there is a break in a sewer or a breakdown at a plant, no raw sewage is discharged through the City system. If the issue is the presence of toxins in the treated sewage, additional treatment may be required. But not secondary treatment.

Secondary treatment does not make the water "cleaner"; it only removes nutrients and adds oxygen. After that, it is strictly a matter of what you do with the treated sewage, and that depends on the receiving water.

If the receiving waters are shallow and/or have poor circulation, like Kaneohe Bay, even tertiary may not be enough - get it out of there! But our deep ocean waters are nutrient poor and have oxygen coming out the kazoo. Secondary treatment is very expensive and will do nothing to improve the water quality of Oahu’s south and west shore beaches.

Please don't take my word for it. Ask any environmental engineer. Ask any ocean scientist that doesn't have anything to do with the city. Go take a tour of the Sand Island Treatment Plant. I defy you to tell the difference between the effluent and an ordinary glass of water.

For a long time I could not understand why the Sierra Club and other environmental groups so adamantly oppose the waiver. I can understand the science -- why can't they? Then a national Sierra Club lobbyist told me. Basically he said that they didn't give a damn about the science. They don't want any waivers ever. They are perfectly willing to make Hawaii overtreat its sewage rather than risk that someone else might use our waiver as a precedent to undertreat some place else. When I wailed about the cost, he answered that he didn't care, he wasn't paying for it and in the big picture, so what?

Well, I care. I am one of the few people on this island who has actually read all nine volumes of the Mamala Bay study, which was required by EPA in order to continue its waiver of secondary treatment.

We paid $9 million for the study. It is the first scientific treatise that I have ever read where the recommendations were not supported by the facts. The study reported that there were no adverse effects on either the environment or public health from the effluent discharge at Sand Island. Then it recommended additional disinfection just on general principles. We should not let politics trump science again.

Jacqueline Parnell
The writer was formerly an Environmental Planner for the Environmental Protection

April 2007 Home   Newsletters July 2007