Maui mayor rejects settlement agreement, leading Supreme Court to hear water case

October 31, 2019

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino rejected an agreement with the Maui County Council on October 18 to settle a case involving whether pollution that moves through groundwater to surface water should be covered under the Clean Water Act.

The Supreme Court is now scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on November 6.

“This issue must be clarified once and for all, not relitigated endlessly at county taxpayers’ expense,” Victorino said. “Plaintiffs chose federal courts to file suit against Maui County in 2012. If their case has merit, they should welcome having it heard by the Supreme Court.”

As reported in September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 2018 in Hawaii’s Maui County v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund that a municipal wastewater facility violated the Clean Water Act by injecting treated wastewater into the groundwater, some of which entered the Pacific Ocean. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear the county’s appeal this fall.

But Maui officials directed county officials to withdraw the Supreme Court case and adhere to a settlement agreement reached during an earlier stage of litigation in September. The agreement would have required Maui to invest $2.5 million in wastewater reuse systems, pay a penalty, and work to secure a permit, according to Bloomberg Environment.

According to Bloomberg Environment, attorney David Henkin, who is representing Maui environmental groups in the legal challenge over the injection wells, expressed disappointment in Victorino’s decision to not settle the case.

“It’s unfortunate that the Mayor has chosen to side with the Trump Administration and the nation’s worst polluters, rather than listen to the will of the people of Maui, who spoke out overwhelmingly in favor of settling the case and focusing on addressing the harm the Lahaina injection wells are inflicting on Maui’s priceless coral reef every day,” Henkin said in an email to Bloomberg Environment.

NGWA and the Water Systems Council filed a friends of the court brief in the case. The brief supported the argument that the Clean Water Act should not regulate groundwater as a point source pollutant. Both organizations believe existing state and federal regulations sufficiently regulate groundwater resources.

“At NGWA, our top priority is maintaining the quality of the nation’s groundwater. We accomplish this through the advancement of knowledge, education, outreach, and enhancement of professional practices. Ensuring the Clean Water Act is implemented correctly is a large part of achieving this goal,” said NGWA CEO Terry S. Morse, CAE, CIC.

Oral arguments were held in the Maui County v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund case at the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on November 6.

A ruling on the case is expected in early 2020.