Hawaii's pilot cesspool grant program opens March 15

Mar. 3—The Hawaii Department of Health today said applications for the state's pilot cesspool grant program will be available starting March 15.

The program, established by a new law passed last year, helps low- and moderate-income property owners upgrade or convert their cesspools or connect to an available sewage system. Each grant recipient can receive up to $20,000 in reimbursements.

By law, all cesspools in Hawaii must be upgraded by the year 2050 to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

Cesspools — basically shallow, underground holes used for the disposal of human waste — collect and discharge untreated raw sewage into the ground, where disease-causing pathogens and harmful chemicals can contaminate groundwater, streams and the ocean.

The EPA has over the years been cracking down on illegal large-capacity cesspools on commercial and government properties in the state for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act.

"DOH recognizes that the requirement to upgrade or convert a cesspool imposes a financial burden on low and moderate-income families," said the department in a news release. "The purpose of this grant program is to assist such property owners, including lessees on Hawaiian Home Lands."

To qualify, cesspools must be in a "priority level 1" or "priority level 2" area, based on the University of Hawaii's cesspool interactive map tool at seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/cesspools-tool/.

In addition, the applicant's household income cannot exceed 140% of the area median income ($182,840 for a family of four on Oahu) set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"This is truly an exciting program that will go a long way to help qualified applicants and, in turn, provide a healthier environment for future generations," said DOH Deputy Director for Environmental Health Kathleen Ho in the release. "I strongly recommend eligible households apply."

Grant awards will be on a first-come, first-served basis, the department said, subject to funding availability.

Visit health.hawaii.gov/wastewater/home/ccpgp or call 808-586-4294 for more information.