Cesspools in Hawaii are a growing issue because of the effects on ground water and coral reefs. A law enacted last year says residents must convert their cesspools by 2050. Many property owners turning out for public meetings say they just can’t afford to make a change.

Cesspool diagramAround the state, cesspools release about 55 million gallons of untreated sewage into the ground each day. This translates into as much as 23,700 pounds of nitrogen and nearly 6,000 pounds of phosphorus going into the ground daily. As these materials make their way to the ocean, drinking water is degraded, the ocean suffers undesirable algae growth and poor water quality that kills coral reefs.

Because of the threat to local water sources, bays and beaches, Governor Ige approved Wastewater System Rules banning new cesspools statewide in 2016. Up until then, Hawaii was the only state in the country allowing new cesspools.

What is Act 125?

Signed into law in July of 2017, Act 125 requires all cesspools to be upgraded, converted to a septic system, or connected to a sewer system by Jan. 1, 2050.

What is Act 120?

Act 120 provides a temporary income tax credit for the cost of upgrading or converting a qualified cesspool to a septic tank system or an aerobic treatment unit system, or connecting to a sewer system. A taxpayer may apply for a tax credit of up to $10,000 for each qualified cesspool. The tax credit starts in tax year 2016 and ends in tax year 2020. There is a $5,000,000 cap that is available for each tax year. Any taxpayer who is not eligible to claim the credit in a taxable year shall be eligible to claim the credit in the subsequent taxable years up to 2020.

Only cesspools located within 500 feet of a shoreline, perennial stream, wetland, or within a source water assessment program area (two year time of travel from a cesspool to a public drinking water source) are eligible for the tax credit.

 Cesspool quick facts:

  • Cesspools are little more than holes in the ground that discharge raw, untreated human waste.
  • Cesspools can contaminate ground water, drinking water sources, streams and oceans with disease-causing pathogens, algae-causing nutrients, and other harmful substances.
  • Untreated wastewater from cesspools contains pathogens such as bacteria, protozoa and viruses that can cause gastroenteritis, Hepatitis A, conjunctivitis, leptospirosis, salmonellosis and cholera.

How many cesspools do we have in Hawaii?

  • There are approximately 90,000 cesspools in the State, with nearly 50,000 located on the Big Island, almost 14,000 on Kauai, over 12,000 on Maui, over 11,000 on Oahu and over 1,400 on Molokai.