Cesspools in Hawaiʻi

Hawai‘i has far more cesspools than any other state—88,000 to be exact—and is the last in the nation to ban them. These cesspools put tens of million of gallons of raw sewage into our groundwater and surface water every day. Makawao and Kahalu‘u are already seeing the impacts of outdated cesspools on our environment and shortly other communities will as well. The state is taking these early warning signs seriously and enacted Act 125 to ban cesspools and encourage upgrades. This is an important step towards protecting Hawai‘i’s drinking water, public health, and environment. But so much more is needed. 

Why does this matter?

  • Cesspools are little more than holes in the ground that discharge human waste. They don’t treat wastewater, or contain contamination. They just pass it through. 
  • Hawai‘i’s cesspools put 53 million gallons of raw sewage into the groundwater daily. We rely on our groundwater for over 90% of our drinking water. 
  • This release of untreated wastewater not only threatens public health by the potential spread of disease but also brings harm to our aquatic and nearshore environments. 
  • Addressing cesspools can be costly for homeowners—replacements cost $20,000 -$100,000 each. Additional financial support must be made available to those who cannot take advantage of the tax credit made available by Act 125. 

Next steps

  • Fund Department of Health drinking water monitoring programs cut by federal lawmakers. 
  • Encourage homeowners to convert sooner with additional funding options.
  • Support innovations in wastewater management like composting toilets and gray water reuse. 

How you can help

You can see priority bills here

  • Call your legislators and ask them to support bills that: 
  • Requires cesspools located in priority upgrade areas to be upgraded within 180 days of the sale of the property
  • Support funding options, studies, and alternatives for mandated cesspool upgrades
  • Submit testimony in support of these bills in hearings 

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