HONOLULU (KHON2) — Native Hawaiian fishers, surfers, and citizen environmental watchdog groups are seeking to protect fishing grounds from a dilapidated drainage ditch system that stretches 40 miles along the West Kauaʻi coast.

Last week, Surfrider Foundation, Nā Kia‘i Kai, and Pesticide Action Network, as represented by Earthjustice, sent a notice of intent to sue County of Kauaʻi and state Health Director in order to address the pollution at Kīkīaola Harbor.

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In an announcement on Wednesday, Feb. 9, Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager Cruz wrote:

“Unless the Health Department backs down from its refusal to issue a permit and follows the law, we’ll have to drag the State and County into court to battle over this issue all over again. The government’s job here is minimizing water pollution at Kīkīaola Harbor, rather than wasting taxpayer resources re-litigating an issue that we won in court three years ago.”

Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager Cruz

On Monday, Feb. 14, Cruz said they haven’t heard anything back.

“We continue to hope that the Director of Health and Kauaʻi County will switch course and follow the law,” Cruz said. “Although another round of litigation is our last resort, we’re ready and willing to do what’s necessary to protect West Kauaʻi residents from pollution at Kīkīaola Harbor and defend our previous court win.”

In 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai‘i ruled that discharging pollution to the ocean from a 40-mile drainage ditch system on the Mānā Plain, including one ditch outfall at Kīkīaola Harbor, requires a federal permit under the Clean Water Act. According to EarthJustice, the state DOH controls the permitting decisions for the County of Kaua’i and has refused to issue a permit to regulate the pollution.

During heavy rain events, EarthJustice says the Kīkīaola ditch discharges untreated drainage waters into the nearshore ocean waters at Kīkīaola Harbor.

“Our families are food fishing in poisoned waters,” said Brenn Naka‘ahiki, a Kekaha resident and Nā Kia‘i Kai member. “It’s time for the State to do its job and fix the problem, rather than play legal games.”

Under the Clean Water Act, the County and Health Director have 60 days to do the following: The County must apply for an NPDES permit and minimize the pollution from Kīkīaola ditch, and the Health Director must commit to process the application and issue a permit.

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If they do not come into compliance, then Surfrider Foundation, Nā Kia‘i Kai, and Pesticide Action Network will file a Clean Water Act complaint in the federal district court for Hawaii.