SPECIAL REPORT SR-2020-03
IDENTIFYING POTENTIAL KNOWLEDGE GAPS FOR HAWAI‘I’S CESSPOOL CONVERSION PLAN
Michael A. Mezzacapo
March 2020, 85 pp.
Cesspools are widely used as a sewage disposal method across the Hawaiian Islands. However, cesspools lack adequate treatment of waste to protect the surrounding environment from dangerous pathogens and nutrients. Each day, approximately 88,000 cesspools across Hawai‘i release nearly 55 million gallons of sewage into the ground, much of it reaching groundwater. This report assembled a comprehensive list and analysis of research studies pertaining to the status of wastewater pollution —with an emphasis on cesspools— and associated impacts on water resources, nearshore ecosystems, and human health. Many of the studies discussed within this white paper provided valid scientific evidence to support the creation of a long-range statewide cesspool conversion plan. Knowledge gaps in areas such as hydraulic/hydrologic modeling and technological methods were identified, with additional limitations in identifying and tracking specific wastewater sources. Many of these limitations, however, can be overcome. For example, limitations in identifying particular sources of wastewater pollution using %N and δ15N can be supplemented with available land-use information and source tracking information to clarify concentration and isotopic data of nitrogen. Resource management presents many challenges, including the recognition of diverse societal views and values. To overcome discrepancies in available data and varying societal values, the use of transparent, adaptable framework methods such as “structured decision making” offers approaches for problem-solving. Such frameworks are consistent with a holistic management approach to onsite wastewater management that incorporates the natural and social sciences to identify and address barriers as a method to reduce negative impacts.
A copy of the report may be viewed at the Hawai’i Department of Health Cesspool Conversion Working Group Website. Click here to view the report.