WATER MONITORING: PROTECTING THE AQUATIC ENVIRONMENT

The early years of the 21st century have seen the State of Hawaii reap some successes in promoting two different industries to diversify the visitor industry dominated economy of the State. Today, the State has its first commercial open ocean fish farm in operation one mile off the coast of Ewa on Oahu. Cates International, Inc. is producing locally popular moi in two large submerged cages attached to the ocean floor for wholesale and restaurant customers. Satisfaction is high and demand is growing. Another ocean fish farm has its permits and is set to develop off the coast of Keahole on the Kona coast of the Big Island. This fish farm will be producing local native kahala for the local and mainland markets in up to six submerged cages.

At the same time, thanks in part to federal legislation, the cruise industry in Hawaii is on the verge of tripling its activities over the next two years. This year, in addition to the usual pass-through cruises that visit the State, NCL America has placed in operation, under the United States flag, the Pride of Aloha with a capacity of 2,000 passengers, dedicated exclusively to inter-island cruises within the State. NCL America plans to add two additional cruise ships with a similar capacity over the next two years also dedicated solely to inter-island cruise operations.

While both new industries were strongly promoted and welcomed by the State, many are concerned with the potential pollution of the aquatic environment that may be caused by these two new industries. House Concurrent Resolution No. 118, H.D. 1, adopted during the Regular Session of 2004, expressed concern that Hawaii's waters that are so necessary for the visitor industry, cultural practices, subsistence, and ocean recreation could be the victim of pollution created by the development of the new open ocean fish farms and the expansion of the cruise ship operations in the State. The Resolution recognized that the Department of Health conducts a water monitoring program to protect the public health but requested that the Legislative Reference Bureau undertake a study to determine whether there should be a separate water quality monitoring program established in the Department of Land and Natural Resources with an emphasis on the environment.

A large portion of the water quality monitoring programs presently in operation are handled by the Clean Water Branch of the Department of Health (hereafter DOH). The Bureau found that the mission of DOH and its water quality monitoring efforts was equally directed at protecting the public health and the aquatic environment. Additionally, water quality monitoring is being conducted by the several counties and some private parties. The Bureau further reviewed the regulatory oversight imposed on the open ocean fish farm industry and cruise ship operations in the State.

The regulatory oversight of the fish farm industry is based primarily on Chapter 190D, Hawaii Revised Statutes, relating to ocean and submerged land leasing, and is the primary responsibility of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (hereafter DLNR). DLNR is charged with reviewing and approving conservation district use applications and issuing ocean leases for ocean fish farm operations. It also conducts ongoing oversight through its Division of Aquatic Resources that does periodic site inspections. This oversight is shared by DOH, through the implementation of the federally-mandated National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (hereafter NPDES) program. DOH is responsible for issuing NPDES permits for fish farms that require extensive water monitoring for potential toxicity and overloading of nutrients in the area of the underwater fish cages. The NPDES permit also requires quarterly bottom biological community surveys that are reviewed by DLNR.

The environmental oversight of cruise ship operations in the State is shared by the United States Coast Guard and the State. Under federal laws, primarily the Clean Water Act, the Coast Guard is the principal enforcer of environmental laws and regulations in the navigable waters of the United States. Additionally, the State has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with most of the cruise ship operators engaging in cruise ship operations in the State. By law, the Coast Guard makes regular inspections of all cruise ships plying the navigable waters of the United States to ensure that the mechanisms in place for the prevention of pollution from the various waste streams produced by the ships are in operation. DOH, at the invitation of the Coast Guard, is a regular participant in these inspections and is further charged with the review of records for maritime sanitation devices periodically submitted pursuant to the Memorandum of Understanding.

While there can be no guarantee that there will not be any instance of pollution from the fish farm or the cruise ship operations, the regulatory oversight presently in place appears to be working. The cooperation and coordination of efforts by the agencies of the various levels of government is effective in overseeing the operations of fish farms and cruise ships and the prevention of pollution from these operations. The establishment of a separate, additional water monitoring program in the DLNR would, to a great extent, be duplicative of the program operated by DOH and very costly to implement. Accordingly, the answer to the question posed by the Resolution is "NO", there is not a present need for the establishment of an additional water monitoring program with an emphasis on the environment in the DLNR.

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