U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Hawaii Clean Water Act Case
In a case watched closely both by polluting industries and clean water advocates across the nation, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up an appeal of a Clean Water Act case out of Hawaii concerning treated sewage flowing into the Pacific Ocean from injection wells.
Last March, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Maui County has been violating the federal Clean Water Act since its Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility was first put into operation in the early 1980s. The Lahaina facility, which serves West Maui, injects 3 to 5 million gallons of treated sewage each day into groundwater that then transports the sewage to the ocean.
"We are confident the Supreme Court will agree with the appeals court that, when Congress passed the Clean Water Act to protect our nation's waters, it did not give polluters a loophole to use groundwater as a sewer to convey harmful pollutants into our oceans, lakes and rivers," said David Henkin, Earthjustice staff attorney based in Honolulu.
In 2011, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-funded study used tracer dye to show conclusively that the Lahaina sewage flows with the groundwater into near-shore waters off Kahekili Beach, which is popular with local residents and tourists alike. Though treated, the sewage still contains a variety of contaminants, including excess nutrients that have been linked to algae blooms and are shown to damage coral reefs.
Four Maui community groups represented by Earthjustice—Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club-Maui Group, Surfrider Foundation and West Maui Preservation Association—sued the county in 2012, seeking to protect the sensitive coral reefs at Kahekili from harmful pollution. In 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey, the State of Hawaii's Division of Aquatic Resources, and other experts published a peer-reviewed study documenting the ongoing, serious harm to the reef at Kahekili associated with the Lahaina facility's discharges to the ocean.
Over the past four decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and states across the country have used their Clean Water Act authority to prevent a variety of industries—including wastewater treatment facilities, chemical plants, concentrated animal feeding operations, mines, and oil and gas waste-treatment facilities—from contaminating our nation's waters via groundwater. The final outcome of this case could determine whether the public will continue to be protected from these harmful polluting activities.
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By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Earth had its second-warmest year on record in 2020, just 0.02 degrees Celsius (0.04°F) behind the record set in 2016, and 0.98 degrees Celsius (1.76°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA reported January 14.
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for 2020, the second-warmest year the globe has seen since record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. Record-high annual temperatures over land and ocean surfaces were measured across parts of Europe, Asia, southern North America, South America, and across parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. No land or ocean areas were record cold for the year. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
Figure 2. Total ocean heat content (OHC) in the top 2000 meters from 1958-2020. Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences
Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperature from average in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W). Sea surface temperature were approximately one degree Celsius below average over the past month, characteristic of moderate La Niña conditions. Tropical Tidbits
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