Free Presentation on “Nature Based Solutions to Cesspools and Injection Wells — Latest Findings from Field Research” Offered on Wed. July 6

KIHEI, HI – Are there effective nature-based solutions that can help replace the 90,000 cesspools in the state of Hawaii that are currently releasing nearly 53 million gallons of raw, untreated human waste into the environment each day?

Can nature-based methods also provide quick-to-install alternatives to the injection wells located throughout the state that are used for wastewater disposal, often to the detriment of nearshore ocean waters and coral reefs?

Get the answers to these questions at a free Zoom webinar on Wed. July 6 at 5:30 pm. The presenters will be Paul Sturm, founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit organization Ridge to Reefs, and John Astilla, a local farmer and founder/owner of Sunshine Vetiver Solutions.

The presentation is part of Maui Nui Marine Resource Council’s monthly Know Your Ocean Speaker Series, supported by the County of Maui. Admission is free, but advance reservations are required.

To reserve your spot, visit

Sturm will discuss a nature-based treatment system for cesspool conversion which has been shown to be highly effective in six months of testing with University of Hawaii. It relies upon native plant and restoration plant species which use evapotranspiration to reduce the concentration and volume of effluent released to the environment and functions as a zero discharge system.

Astilla and Sturm will also discuss the results of a pilot project adjacent to the Kihei wastewater plant that demonstrates an alternative to injection wells that is less costly, highly effective and more space efficient. This pilot project demonstrates techniques that can be used to treat effluent from any of Maui’s three wastewater plants.

Cesspools are little more than holes in the ground that discharge raw, untreated human waste into the environment, where it finds its way into groundwater drinking supplies, rivers and the ocean. There are about 12,000 cesspools on Maui and 1,400 on Molokai. In 2017, the Hawai‘i State Legislature passed Act 125, which mandates that by January 1, 2050, all cesspools in the State, unless granted exemption, shall upgrade or convert to a septic or aerobic treatment unit, or connect to a sewer system (Act 125, 2017). 

But replacing a cesspool with an approved septic system requires a significant cash outlay for most homeowners, with an average cost of more than $23,000 per cesspool replacement.

“More than 53 million gallons of human sewage enters Hawaii’s environment each day through cesspools; this sewage contaminates groundwater drinking water supplies and our coastal ocean waters, creating algae blooms and harm to corals,” says Sturm. “That’s why Ridge to Reefs has focused on finding affordable nature-based alternatives to cesspools, to ease the financial burden on homeowners and businesses, and provide a solution to this pollution issue.”

Sturm and Astilla will also be describing an affordable, nature-based methods to replace the use of injection wells to re-use or dispose of treated wastewater. These methods have been tested at a pilot site near the Kihei Wastewater Reclamation Facility. Results of this pilot project will be presented during the Zoom webinar.

“Throughout the state of Hawaii, more than 500 injection wells, most of which were dedicated to the disposal of treated sewage effluent, had been installed by 1985,” reports Sturm. “Unfortunately, this effluent has been found to enter our coastal waters, where it contributes to coral reef deterioration.”

“We are pleased to provide a nature-based alternatives that are affordable, easily installed and scalable to provide a safe way to take up treated wastewater and keep it out of the ocean,” says Sturm. “This method offers a stopgap solution which can be integrated into until more extensive piping and infrastructure can be constructed to direct the treated wastewater to agricultural and landscaping purposes.”

“We are pleased to bring this informative talk to the public, as it presents real answers to the problems that threaten our reefs and drinking water supplies,” says Mike Fogarty, Executive Director of Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “To ensure clean ocean water along our coasts and the conditions needed for healthy coral reefs, Maui must address its wastewater problems and implement alternatives to cesspools and injection wells now – our reefs simply can’t wait.”

To register for this talk, please visit

About Paul Sturm:

About Paul Sturm:
Paul Sturm is the founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit organization Ridge to Reefs. Founded in 2011, Ridge to Reefs works to protect and restore coastal and coral reef ecosystems by reducing land-to-sea pollution with nature based solutions. His expertise includes treating polluted storm and wastewater by establishing green infrastructure solutions such as constructed wetlands, rain gardens and bioreactors. Ridge to Reefs currently has projects in the Chesapeake Bay, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Palau, and American Samoa.

Paul has spent over 25 years working on watershed plans, implementation projects, sustainable agriculture and code changes in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and around the country. Early in his career, he spent 6 years researching the effectiveness of implementation of agricultural and urban Best Management Practices and developed methods to track and target pollution source areas in agricultural watersheds.


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