Clean Water Act Settlement Funds Flow Into Watershed Projects

Paul Alston (left) of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing recently presented watershed restoration grants to two local environmental groups. At the ceremony are (from left) Hawaii's Thousand Friends executive director Donna Wong, Hui o Ko`olaupoko executive director Todd Cullison, and Rick Barboza, general partner of Papahana Kuakola Hui Ku Maoli Ola. Photo courtesy of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.

Windward Oahu’s water-sheds may work better in the coming years because of grants that sprang from a lawsuit settlement – and two area environmental groups recently were awarded grant money for restoration plans.

Kailua-based Hui o Ko’olaupoko won $230,000 for its storm water low-impact retrofits, which will capture water runoff for treatment before it reaches the ocean.

The Kaneohe-based native plant nursery, Hui Ku Maoli Ola, won $400,000 for its Waipao ‘Ili restoration work – clearing 12 acres of the Heeia watershed of invasive, non-native plants.

The grant money followed a settlement last year of a citizen lawsuit against the city by the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends and Our Children’s Earth for violations of the federal Clean Water Act. According to their attorneys at Alson Hunt Floyd & Ing, Sand Island wastewater treatment plant discharges failed to meet Clean Water Act standards because of excessive levels of bacteria, pesticides and other pollutants.

Hui o Ko’olaupoko’s Low-Impact Retrofits project will use landscape features and designs that can be incorporated into existing urban spaces in order to reduce the amount of pollution that enters a storm drain. Small rain gardens, for example, are designed to detain runoff. The group works to protect ocean health through watershed and land restoration and monitoring, natural resource conservation and scientific data dissemination.

“When it rains and runoff flows from a hard surface, such as a parking lot, it picks up pollutants and goes into the storm drain, to the stream and into the ocean,” Hui o Ko’olaupoko executive director Todd Cullison explained. “In between – where the water lands and the water goes – it’s an opportunity to intercept that water and infiltrate it into the ground.”

The main goal, he said, is to demonstrate the benefits of the retrofits and monitor their effectiveness. “We are looking to bring these advances in storm water management to Oahu and to developers … and also trying to benefit the water quality and ocean health.”

With its Waipao ‘Ili Restoration project, Hui Ku Maoli Ola is working to clear invasive, nonnative plants from 12 acres in the Heeia watershed. It then will replant in native flora. Co-founder and general partner Matthew Kapaliku Schirman explained that this will increase water management efficiency, since an invasive plant uses 70 percent more ground-water than a native one.

The goal here is to “remove all these invasive species and rebuild with native plants that are more beneficial to a healthier watershed, helping us re-charge our water resources.

“Water is the key to everything,” Schirman added. “And how we most efficiently manage our water resources and properly manage our watersheds is important.”

The remaining grant money will be awarded to two more environmental restoration projects. Proposals currently are under review and will be announced at a later date.