Creating Compliance: From Cesspool to Septic

Occasionally, we do work beneath the surface. We dig deep. We face those parts of ourselves that would rather remain buried and forgotten. But in order to grow, we bring them into the light. We revamp and rebuild. We dig our heels deep into challenges. We face our shit.

And this time, it’s not metaphorical.

Statewide, Hawai’i has had a problem of dealing with waste. Methods that were once effective on a small scale level are now insufficient as we expand into large scale communities. This waste leaks into the ‘aina and pollutes our oceans. It makes our waters unfit for drinking and swimming, while also destroying marine habitats.

The State of Pollution

Currently, the islands of Hawai’i host tens of thousands of cesspools. The problem with cesspools, is that they do not effectively treat wastewater. The solid waste only becomes concentrated to one area, and then it seeps; leaching into the land, into the groundwater, and spreads.

Cumulatively, cesspools in Hawai’i release 53 million gallons of untreated sewage into the ground each day; more than half of that is on Big Island, alone. 

“That’s an extreme amount of untreated raw sewage that people end up swimming in, fishing from and maybe even drinking,” says Marti Townsend, director of Sierra Club of Hawaii.

In Hawai’i, the EPA reports that more than 95% of our drinking water comes from the ground. And over 40,000 facilities that use cesspools are within 200ft of our important watershed sources. This untreated water is known to carry harmful bacterial, pathogens, and viruses.

Additionally, this sewage finds its way to the ocean and contributes to coral reef degradation. It contains high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and various other contaminants that encourage algae growth,  inhibit reef prosperity and becomes detrimental to the overall water quality.

Rebuild, Renew, Refresh

Now is the time to build healthier systems.  

State law requires a complete elimination and conversion of all cesspools by 2050. Cesspools are being phased out in favor of septic systems, which more adequately treat our waste before releasing it as filtered, clean water back into the earth.

At Kalanihonua, this is a challenge we are rising to today as part of our commitment to green development, governmental compliance and land based sustainability.

This statement was recently issued by Executive Director,  Joël Tan:

Kalanihonua is experiencing a time of uncertainty given the need to become compliant with the county, state and federal laws… Given our aging infrastructure and the organic nature of our material and fiscal evolution over the past 43 years, we have a lot of catching up to do.  

At present, the greatest unknown and most important project before us is to become compliant with the  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with regards to our cesspool-to-septic conversion. We do not yet have direction from the EPA regarding our next steps. We continue to plan for Kalanihonua’s success and to do what we do best – host visitors to our campus for transformative experiences, be they guest, volunteer or neighbor from up the street….

Thank you for hanging in there with us during this pivotal time in Kalanihonua’s history. Let us continue to envision a bright future for Kalanihonua and for us all, manifesting abundance beyond our wildest imaginations.

We want to build a better system for those who will continue to build our future. We want to play an active role in creating a more sustainable, healthier, greener planet. Our campus currently hosts several cesspools that must be converted into a septic systems, thus meeting the EPA, DOH, and our own ethical standards.

Lend A Helping Hand

For communities, businesses, and residences statewide, this will be a costly project. Here on our homefront, it is estimated to be up to a $250,000 endeavor.  In preparation, we are beginning to cut costs to save money, supporters are dispersing grassroots fundraising campaigns, and we are applying for grants. We are doing everything in our power to get this responsibility taken care of.

You can help us with this project by making a charitable, tax-deductible donation

Only with the proper infrastructure can we continue to serve our community and our ultimate vision:

Kalanihonua means harmony of heaven and earth. We manifest this vision through our mission: To inspire new ways of being in the world by living simply, learning joyfully, experiencing community, and honoring the land.


Most of the facts and statistics cited in this article are gathered from a direct PDF issued by the Hawai’i State Department of Health, unless otherwise linked.

You can learn more about the current state of Hawaii’s wastewater treatment plans and conversions by visiting the Department of Health’s website.

If you are a resident of Hawai’i that also needs to become compliant with these recently issued regulations, you can apply for a tax-credit program to receive financial assistance.

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Posted by Lisa Disinger