Maui County Council Votes to Withdraw Supreme Court Water Case

The Maui County Council voted 5-4 on September 20 to settle a case involving whether pollution that moves through groundwater to surface water should be covered under the Clean Water Act.

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.

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.

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.

If the settlement advances without challenge, the agreement requires Maui to invest $2.5 million in wastewater reuse systems, pay a penalty, and work to secure a permit, according to Bloomberg Environment.

The Supreme Court could then choose to hear another case to address a similar Clean Water Act question. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP v. Upstate Forever involves issues concerning a gasoline pipeline rupture in South Carolina.