Pilot cesspool grant program available for Hawaiʻi property owners; first-come, first-serve
Two weeks ago, the director of the Environmental Management department said Hawaiʻi County was “already behind the 8-ball” in meeting the state mandate to convert its 48,596 cesspools by 2050, a deadline that may be moved up by decades for the most contaminating.
But on Friday, the state announced some good news. The Hawaiʻi State Department of Health is offering a pilot cesspool grant program to assist qualified property owners with upgrading or converting their cesspools, or connecting to an available sewage system.
There is $5 million available for the program, which will issue 225 grants on a first-come, first-serve basis.
In 2017, the State Legislature passed Act 125, which mandated all cesspools in Hawaiʻi be upgraded by the year 2050 to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements.
Converting a cesspool imposes a financial burden on low and moderate-income families, the state acknowledged in a press release.
This is especially the case for the Big Island. It has the most cesspools of the four counties — and the most cesspools in the state ranked as Priority Level 1 with 5,119, which is 37% of the state’s Priority Level 1 cesspools.
Hawaiʻi Island also has 2,619 cesspools at Priority Level 2 and 40,858 at Priority Level 3.
According to the study, Hawaiʻi County residents also have the least access to centralized sewers at 71% and would be the most financially affected in the state.
The purpose of this grant program is to assist such property owners, including lessees on Hawaiian Home Lands. Each grant recipient can receive up to $20,000 in reimbursements for a cesspool conversion or cost of connecting to a sewage system.
To qualify, cesspools must be in a priority level 1 or 2 area, as identified by the University of Hawai‘i’s cesspool hazard assessment and prioritization tool. The tool can be accessed at: https://seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/cesspools-tool/.
In addition, the applicant’s household income shall not exceed 140% of the Area Median Income as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“This is truly an exciting program that will go a long way to help qualified applicants and, in turn, provide a healthier environment for future generations,” said Kathleen Ho, deputy director for Environmental Health at the Department of Health. “I strongly recommend eligible households apply.”
The deadline to convert may become even sooner than 2050. The Cesspool Conversion Working Group said the most contaminating cesspools should be converted by 2030.
Grant awards will be subject to funding availability. This grant program was established via state legislation in 2022.
For more information about the cesspool grant program, please visit https://health.hawaii.gov/wastewater/home/ccpgp/ or call 808-586-4294. Applications for the grant program will be available on March 15, 2023.