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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

EcoHero Nomination: Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Everett Dowling

Ecoheroes Nomination – Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Everett Dowling for Envisioning Sustainable Wastewater Management. It has been said that politics makes strange bedfellows. So do good ideas. One good idea that we can all support is the future of Maui’s wastewater management that was envisioned by Mayor Charmaine Tavares and developer Everett Dowling on Friday May 22. 2009. The vision is sustainable wastewater management powered by solar energy with 100% reuse of treated effluents. The occasion was the Blessing Ceremony for the photovoltaic system at the Makena Resort Wastewater Reclamation Facility. Phase I produces 150,000 kWH annually offsetting 50% of the facility’s energy usage. With the addition of Phase II, the facility will be net-zero energy. Over 25 years, the photovoltaic system will save 4,400 barrels of oil and offset 5600 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Unlike other wastewater treatment plants in Maui County, Makena Resort does not inject its effluent into the ground. Instead the treated effluents are mixed with brackish water and used to irrigate the resort golf course. (Information provided by The Dowling Company) The County of Maui currently operates three large wastewater treatment plants that inject treated effluent into the ground water. From 1997 to 2008, the plants at Kahului, Kihei, and Lahaina injected an estimated combined total of more than 51 billion gallons of wastewater into the groundwater. (Data provided by Steve Parabicoli, County of Maui water reuse coordinator). Although these effluents are treated, there is mounting evidence of environmental damage to the nearshore environment due to the pollution load in the wastewater. ( A group of South Maui residents, concerned about pollution in waters off Kihei, is going to court to try to stop Maui County from injecting wastewater effluent from its sewage treatment plant into the ground ( A recent EPA proposal to renew an Underground Injection Control (UIC) permit for the Lahaina Wastewater Treatment Plant resulted in wide-spread opposition and a call for effluent reuse from a diverse cross section of the community including resource managers, research scientists, environmental advocates, fishermen, cultural practitioners, students, and members of the general public. A revised draft permit is currently available for public review and comment (, with stricter limits than originally proposed for injectate volume, mass of nitrogen and concentration of bacteria. At the blessing of the Makena Resort Wastewater Reclamation photovoltaic system, Mayor Tavares delighted injection well opponents and wastewater reuse proponents alike with her announcement of Maui County’s goal to achieve 100% reuse of effluent and elimination of injection wells for wastewater disposal. In the past, the major stumbling block for water reuse has been funding for the needed upgrades to wastewater treatment, storage, and distribution lines. Reuse has not taken priority in the County’s limited wastewater management budget. Because electricity for wastewater management is the largest line item in the County’s budget (more than $200 million per year), the photovoltaic technology being demonstrated at Makena by The Dowling Company offers a light of hope at the end of the wastewater tunnel. If County of Maui wastewater treatment plants can be powered by solar energy, the resulting savings can be used to develop improved treatment and water reuse systems. This is an economic and environmental win-win that:§ Saves money in wastewater treatment operations§ Reduces reliance on oil to produce electricity;§ Uses US technology and local resources, keeping dollars in the US rather than foreign economies§ Reduces carbon footprint and accompanying global climate impacts§ Reduces potable water use for irrigation§ Reduces injection of treated sewage effluent into fragile marine environments Funding of photovoltaic and water reuse infrastructure could be achieved by a combination of private investment, and stimulus package funding through public programs such as the State Revolving Loan Fund. According to the Water Environment Federation (This Week in Washington May 15, 2009), the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved legislation May 14 that would authorize $38.5 billion over five years for state clean water and drinking water revolving funds and other programs to repair infrastructure and improve water quality. In addition, the bill includes $45 million over five years for EPA's WaterSense program, a voluntary water conservation program similar to the agency's Energy Star program. It also would authorize $250 million for watershed improvements and $50 million for a nationwide grant program to address agriculture-related water quality issues. The legislation includes incentives for green infrastructure projects and to help low-income communities. A research and incentive program would promote water conservation, efficiency, and recycling.Photovoltaic systems can be funded through private investment and tax incentives. The Nature Conservancy recently funded a photovoltaic project through a Power Purchase Agreement in which the cost of the system was capitalized up front by a private investor and will be paid over time by the Conservancy as the user. The group will buy the power generated by the renewable energy system at a reduced rate below current utility pricing. The agreement structures the tax incentive provided by the state and federal governments to encourage users to install photovoltaic systems, to enable the investor to take the tax credit and thereby reduce the cost to the non-profit which otherwise could not use the tax credit. ( has a unique opportunity to develop truly sustainable wastewater management program that conserves energy, taxpayer dollars, and potable water; provides local employment and economic benefit; and protects the marine environment that is the basis of the Hawaiian way of life.
Submitted by Robin Knox, Water Quality Consulting, Inc. & Aquanimity NOW

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