Hawaii Continues Effort to Eliminate Cesspools

Interested in Trucks?

Get Trucks articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Trucks + Get Alerts

Estimates say there are 90,000 cesspools in use across the Hawaiian Islands, and now their days are numbered. This spring, the state Legislature passed and Gov. David Ige signed a bill that will require most of those cesspools to be converted to septic systems or ATUs, or require those properties to connect to a municipal sewer system. This must happen by Jan. 1, 2050.

Act 125 allows for some cesspools to remain. The state health director may grant exemptions if property owners present documents showing a legitimate reason why conversion would not work. Those reasons include small lot sizes, steep topography, poor soils or problems accessing the site.

Hawaii has had a tax credit program to help people with the cost of replacing cesspool wastewater systems, and to fund it, the Legislature has set aside $5 million to help 500 people annually. Yet in 2016, the state issued only five credits, and in the first part of 2017, it issued 12.

By early 2018 when the Legislature next convenes, the state Health Department must prepare a report on the number and location of cesspools throughout the state and set priorities for conversion of the first systems. State agencies also must look at the feasibility of establishing a grant program to help low-income residents convert their cesspools.

News reports have noted a steady increase in the counts of fecal bacteria in Hawaii’s nearshore waters. Average beach fecal bacteria counts have greatly increased between 2006 and 2016, according to West Hawaii Today.


About 2,000 gallons of wastewater spilled into Holly Creek in Indianapolis in August after a bridge collapsed under a vacuum truck used to empty a septic tank. When the rear of the truck fell through the bridge deck, the valve on the back of the tank broke. The 4,000-gallon truck was filled with about 3,000 gallons of wastewater after pumping out a tank at a home, according to The Indianapolis Star.

The pumping company sent a second truck to the scene, and its operator vacuumed up most of the wastewater. The rest was allowed to flow downstream and be diluted in the White River.

Pam Thevenow, head of water quality and hazardous materials management for the Marion County Public Health Department, said it is up to contractors to determine the ability of bridges to handle their loaded vehicles. The department said it would not cite anyone involved in the incident because it was an accident.


The police chief of Bay Minette has been found guilty of two counts of illegally dumping sewage and will be fined $1,000 for each violation. He will also lose his pumping license, said a report from Fox 10 television in Mobile, Alabama. Clarence Crook III was found guilty in July by the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Board. At a hearing earlier this year, an investigator for the board said Crook admitted to dumping wastewater in his pasture. Crook has not had a valid pumping license since 2013.


Five northeastern Ohio counties will receive money from the state EPA’s Water Pollution Control Loan Fund to help owners remedy failing home septic systems. The goal is to prevent wastewater from contaminating streams and groundwater.

Money for the work will come in forgivable loans. Depending on household income, borrowers will receive 100, 85 or 50 percent of the cost. The counties — Cuyahoga, Holmes, Lake, Lorain and Portage — will identify homes with failing systems and determine whether the systems should be replaced or repaired. Residents can apply to their local health departments for consideration.


In an ongoing case, several members of an Amish community appeared in court last summer to defend themselves against charges that they violated county orders to install septic systems on their properties. Attorneys for the state argued that the Amish should be held in contempt of court for failing to follow previous court orders to install septic systems. The core of the Amish defense was their religious beliefs, according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

Modern, worldly technology is not allowed by their religion, said the defendants. They cited Bible scripture that advises Christians not to conform to the world but to transform their minds in order to discern the will of God. “We feel that any type of septic system is a way of the world, and we do not conform to the way of the world,” says Emery Miller, one of the 15 defendants.

The Amish properties in question get water from a gravity-feed system and discharge wastewater directly onto the ground.

South Dakota

The U.S. EPA recently issued a final denial of a wastewater injection permit sought by The Lodge at Mount Rushmore. As a result, the 50-room hotel was prohibited from using its septic system and could not open for the season. Septic system issues at the hotel date back to at least 2015, when a neighbor complained of smelly water surfacing from a drainfield, according to the Rapid City Journal.

Pennington County eventually took the problem to court, and it and the hotel reached agreement that the hotel would remain closed until it could obtain all necessary permits. EPA documents said the hotel’s owner, Winona Inn Limited Partnership, had not done enough to show the system could be operated safely.


Undocumented onsite systems along a 25-mile stretch of the Russian River would be inspected under a plan of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, according to Sonoma West Times & News. Inspections would occur on properties within 600 feet of the river as it flows through northern California wine country from Healdsburg to Monte Rio. Concerned real estate brokers asked for a meeting with officials to discuss how property owners would be affected by the costs needed to repair or replace systems that fail inspections.

A preliminary assessment of properties in Monte Rio six years ago found no record of wastewater disposal plans or permits for most of them. A plan proposed two years ago listed that stretch of the river as a priority area where septic system problems contributed to high bacteria levels in the river. That plan was abandoned in the face of opposition from residents.

Prince Edward Island

A man who said he couldn’t take a certification course was fined $500 for installing a septic system without a license, according to The Guardian. Allan Emmett MacDonald, 65, pleaded guilty to the charge in provincial court in Charlottetown. He told the court he had been in the wastewater business for 40 years and was previously licensed. MacDonald has more than $7,000 in unpaid fines, including a $200 fine for the same offense in 2015. The judge also placed MacDonald on probation for two years and added a condition that he not install any wastewater systems unless he obtains a valid license.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.