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Citizen Groups and State Reach Agreement to Address Ongoing Contamination of Kauaʻi’s Shores

State Commits to Robust Water Quality Monitoring Program to Inform Forthcoming Clean Water Act Permit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 18, 2019

Honolulu, HI — Community groups Na Kia‘i Kai, Surfrider Foundation, and Pesticide Action Network—represented by Earthjustice—and the State of Hawai‘i’s Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC) entered into an agreement yesterday in federal court to address ADC’s ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act in West Kauaʻi. Negotiations commenced after the court ruled in July that ADC was violating the Act by discharging millions of gallons of waters contaminated with pesticides, sediment, and heavy metals each day from the drainage ditch system it operates on the Mānā Plain into the nearshore ocean waters without the required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. 

In lieu of going to trial for the court to decide what actions ADC must take to come into compliance with the Act, the parties resolved these issues through settlement. The agreement, which the parties have reached in principle and will formalize in the coming months, provides for:

  • a six-month deadline for ADC to apply for an NPDES permit to regulate, limit, and monitor pollution from the drainage ditches;
  • prompt implementation by ADC of a robust water quality monitoring program (for pesticides, toxicity, heavy metals, petroleum, bacteria, and sediment) and best-management practices to reduce contamination; 
  • regular disclosure of water quality data on a public website;
  • a prohibition against increasing discharges from the drainage ditches until ADC secures an NPDES permit; and
  • the community groups’ ability to go back to court if ADC does not secure a permit within two-and-a-half years.

“We are thrilled that ADC was willing to come to the table to hammer out a plan for prompt oversight of the drainage system and comprehensive testing of the drainage waters. The settlement will provide critical water quality data to determine how pollution from the ditches can best be controlled going forward,” said Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager Cruz.

“We are pleased to close this chapter of the lawsuit and begin to focus on responsible management of the drainage ditches and the Mānā Plain after decades of mismanagement,” said Na Kia‘i Kai member Kawai Warren. “Our members have been living near the ditches and fishing near the outfalls for generations. We deserve to know whether these waters are safe and to have the peace of mind that there will be regulatory oversight over this pollution as soon as possible.”

The roughly 40 miles of drainage ditches collect polluted runoff and groundwater from thousands of acres of former sugar plantation lands that ADC now licenses to large-scale agribusinesses and various industrial operations. The ditches are unlined and eroding and discharge pesticide pollution and murky brown waters along Barking Sands and MacArthur beaches. 

“The settlement’s water quality monitoring program will provide comprehensive information about the pesticides that run from the agricultural fields, into the ditches, and into the ocean. ADC will have all the information it needs to better manage the Mānā Plain and its tenants,” said Surfrider Foundation member Carl Berg.

“We’re glad that ADC is taking some positive steps to right its past wrongs by committing to prompt regulation, monitoring, and transparency—all of which will promote cleaner ocean waters, as well as greater consideration and safeguards for the people who rely on them,” said Pesticide Action Network organizer Devika Ghai.

Kylie Wager Cruz, (808) 599-2436 x 6618, kwager@earthjustice.org


Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change.

Because the earth needs a good lawyer.


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Pesticide Action Network

Pesticide Action Network is dedicated to advancing alternatives to pesticides worldwide. Follow @pesticideaction

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