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$1.8 Mil Dedicated to Address Sewage Pollution in Puakō Waters

By Tiffany DeMasters
March 6, 2021, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated March 6, 12:35 AM
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More than $1 million in state and county monies have been dedicated to addressing sewage pollution in Puakō waters.

On March 3, the Hawai‘i County Council approved the Puakō Facilities Plan to the Capital Budget with $1.5 million coming from the state and $300,000 from the county. This funding comes after the Puakō community’s decade-long effort to clean up the ocean and reef.

“For us, it’s a great move forward for the coastline, not just Puakō but for the whole state,” said long-time Puakō resident Karen Anderson about the county’s actions Wednesday.

Anderson said the community became concerned about the health of the reef around 10 years ago after they began to notice a decline in fish populations. Scientists from the University of Hawai‘i and other educational institutions began studying the waters. Six years ago, Anderson said, the results of their study determined the biggest problem was raw sewage entering the ocean.

According to Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), there are 643 homes along the Puakō coast that use cesspool, septic systems, and aerobic treatment systems — but due to Hawai‘i Island’s highly porous geology, those systems mean that untreated sewage often leaks directly into the ocean.

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“In some places, if you flush your toilet in the evening, and you go for a swim in the morning, you’re actually swimming in your own sewage,” said Dr. Steven Colbert of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

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CORAL began working alongside the Puakō community in 2014 under their Clean Water for Reefs program to address wastewater pollution on the Puakō reef.

“This is a huge win for the Puakō community,” said Erica Perez, Senior Program Manager at the Coral Reef Alliance, in regards to the funding. “It took a lot of people to make this happen, and we are so incredibly grateful to all of our partners for supporting clean water for communities and coral reefs.”

When the community began the undertaking to clean up their coastline, Anderson said, they knew it was going to take some time.

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“The whole goal was to clean up the waters and reef,” Anderson said. “We’re willing to do our part to work with the state and county toward a solution that works for future generations.”

State Rep. David Tarnas was instrumental in securing state funds for Puakō. The money, he explained to Big Island Now on Friday, will go toward planning and design for a wastewater collection system.

“It has been a priority for me for 25 years,” Tarnas said.

The Hawai‘i State Legislature appropriated funds for the project in 2019 and Gov. David Ige released those CIP funds to the county last year. Tarnas said the council’s approval of the funding was the next step to move forward in the project.

Tarnas said the Puakō reef is of statewide significance and recognized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a state asset. Because of this, the lawmaker said, public money needs to be spent to protect it.

“The community is to be congratulated for their commitment to cleaning up their own neighborhood,” Tarnas said.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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