Major milestone in community effort to protect Hawaii’s Puakō Reef from pollution


PUAKŌ, Hawaii – Today, the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) released a highly anticipated Preliminary Engineering Report that charts the path forward for protecting one of the most significant reefs in the main Hawaiian Islands. The report puts forth a formal recommendation for a new, community-wide sewage treatment facility.

Over the years, Puakō residents noticed a decline in reef health and came together to protect their reef, enlisting researchers and local nonprofit organizations to assist in their efforts. In response, CORAL formed and facilitates the Clean Water for Reefs Puakō project and Advisory Committee to ensure a broad and collective voice among the community and local partners.

The Preliminary Engineering Report, completed by AQUA Engineering, a respected firm that specializes in wastewater treatment, is a thorough analysis of three potential wastewater treatment solutions for the Puakō community, including Aerobic Treatment Units (ATUs), connection to the Kalahuipuaʻa Lagoons (Mauna Lani) facility, and a dedicated onsite treatment facility.

“The onsite treatment facility will provide the best environmental results for the Puakō community and its reefs,” said Erica Perez, Hawai‘i program manager for CORAL. “It also has the highest treatment quality and the lowest 20-year life cycle cost, with 100 percent effluent reuse.”

A key challenge for wastewater treatment in Puakō is the proximity of residential properties to the shoreline, combined with the geology—very porous volcanic rock and high groundwater. This means that any polluted water released from residential treatment units can make its way to the reefs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) designated the South Kohala region, including Puakō, as a Coral Priority Management Site through its Habitat Blueprint initiative. The Puakō reef is also recognized by The State Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and the South Kohala Coastal Partnership as a priority area for ridge-to-reef management through the South Kohala Conservation Action Plan.

Next steps for the project include securing necessary land and permits, determining management and ownership options, outlining funding avenues, and a developing a long-term monitoring plan and citizen science group.