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EPA is investigating wastewater released into Puhi Bay from troubled Hilo sewage plant

Federal and state environmental officials are looking into what caused a large release of partially treated wastewater in Hilo last week and what can be done to prevent future incidents.

The investigation is focusing on a discharge of 607,000 gallons of wastewater into Puhi Bay on Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The wastewater entered the bay without undergoing a required chlorine disinfection process.

Hawaii County is under an administrative consent order with EPA to make much-needed upgrades to the outdated plant that has had a string of accidental wastewater discharges over the years. The order calls for major rehabilitation and replacement of corroded equipment.

Puhi Bay’s shoreline hosts a summer campground used by Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries who live in Keaukaha and Panaewa. Several said their kids were in the water all day on Friday and only learned through social media and word of mouth that the water might have been unsafe for swimming due to high bacterial levels. Others noticed signage sometime mid to late afternoon. The Department of Health says the county started erecting warning signs starting at 2 p.m. The signs said it was unsafe to swim or fish because of “sewage contaminated water” and that exposure could result in illness.

Sheralyn Kalua, a lifelong resident of Keaukaha homestead, said her two teenage sons saw a county worker putting up an unsafe water sign at 3:30 p.m.

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