The US Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion on this case, and the “Toxic Water Loophole”, this month.
The case “centers on a wastewater facility in Maui that violated the law by discharging millions of gallons of treated sewage each day into the Pacific Ocean via the groundwater beneath the facility, devastating a formerly pristine reef. Maui County’s attorneys argue that the municipality shouldn’t be held responsible for the pollution because it is not discharging “directly” into waters protected under the Clean Water Act, but instead indirectly through groundwater.”
- Maui County, Hawaii, owns and operates four wells acting as the county’s primary means of liquid waste disposal into groundwater and the Pacific Ocean. The Clean Water Act (CWA) prohibits the discharge of pollutants from point sources unless a party obtains an exemption from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. The Hawaii Wildlife Fund sued Maui County for violating the CWA by discharging waste without a permit. The District of Hawaii agreed. On appeal, the 9th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.
- The issue: Whether the CWA requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source, such as groundwater.
- The outcome: The appeal is pending adjudication before the U.S. Supreme Court.