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Climate Change Will Make it More Tougher To Protect the Environment Around Oahu’s Next Landfill
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Climate Change Will Make it More Tougher To Protect the Environment Around Oahu’s Next Landfill

West Oahu Land Filled Special Project Badge

You could see used syringes, catheters and raw sewage on the beaches.

West Oahu Land Filled Special Project Badge

Heavy rains in late 2010 and early 2011 caused a Leeward reservoir above Oahus only municipal landfill Waimanalo Gulch to overflow. The landfills filtration system was overwhelmed and backup retention ponds failed to keep up with demand. Millions of gallons of contaminated waters flooded the beaches of Ko Olina resort from Ewa and Nanakuli.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued both the operator and the owner of the landfill.They were indictedKnowingly releasing pollutants into U.S. waters and lying repeatedly to federal and state officials about having a stormwater system. The landfill operators Pled guiltyto criminal violations the Clean Water Act, paid $400,000 criminal fines, $200,000 restitution local businesses, and spent thousands of money upgrading their stormwater drainage systems in the subsequent years.

Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill Stormwater System
In January 2011, stormwater and debris flooded Waimanalo Gulch’s filtration system, causing it to burst. It eventually burst at the Westside beaches. Kuu Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2021

The landfill manager referred to the two storms that flooded the landfills in December 2010 and Jan 2011 as two back-to-back 100-year storms. However, climate change is expected make such storms more common and possibly more intense.

The County of Honolulu and the City of Honolulu are currently deciding where Oahus’ next landfill will be located. This raises questions about the site that will be most affected by climate change and the additional infrastructure needed to protect the environment from a warming planet.

Preparing for the Future by Learning from the Past

The warm air that circulates from the equator towards the poles and back again is responsible for Hawaii’s rainfall and trade winds. These patterns will change with rising temperatures, as the state has already seen. A decrease in frequency or intensitySince 1973, the northeast trade winds have been in force

Warmer temperatures result in more ocean evaporation. This means that there is more moisture in our atmosphere and more rainfall. According to Pao-Shin Chu (Hawaii climatologist), there is a 7% increase of atmospheric moisture for every one degree increase in ocean temperature. Over the past 50 year, there has been An increase in extreme rain eventsIn the islands, research suggestsThe southern Oahu region should be ready for more heavy rainfall.

When atmospheric winds shift and transport moisture-laden clouds away form the islands, those same temperatures dry out soil, making droughts longer and more intense. Hawaii has seen this before. Droughts are more frequentSince 2008.

All of this means that climate change will lead to more water being used when it isn’t needed, and less when there is.

Although there are many sophisticated and accurate models that can predict climate impacts on a global level, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the potential change in precipitation within a small area.

The location of Oahu’s new landfill is restricted to the uncolored locations on this map, according to the city’s Department of Environmental Services. City & County of Honolulu

Regardless of where the next landfill is going to be, we’re already talking about what redundant measures we can install at the landfill to protect the surrounding environment from increased rainfall and potential hazardous runoff, said Michael OKeefe, deputy director of the Honolulu Department of Environmental Services.

There are four areas where the island’s next landfill could be constructed, as well as multiple sites within each area.

Two large swathes on the North Shore are being considered. This is an issue that the North Shore Neighborhood Board will be addressing in January.

One is located near Wheeler Army Airfield. Another is located between Makakilo-Kunia. Kapolei Neighborhood Board Chair Anthony Makana Paris indicated that their Environmental Justice subcommittee has received concerns from community members about the potential new sites’ proximity to the Ewa aquifer, Honouliuli National Historic SiteThe University of Hawaii West Oahu campus.

The nine-member committee has until December 31, 2022, in order to recommend a location. The committee will finish the list of criteria to be used in scoring and ranking potential landfill sites at its next meeting, which will take place on February 7. The Draft listConsider the impact of groundwater on the site. H-PowerAmong other things, construction costs, landfill capacities, and the effect of precipitation.

Civil Beat contacted every member of the advisory panel to get interviews about how they were considering climate change in their decision-making. Markus Owens, an aide to the Honolulu Department of Environmental Services stated in an email, that most members felt it was too early in the process for climate impacts.

At the recent committee meeting, mid-December, the impact of increased precipitation was a hot subject after the Board of Water Supply expressed concern that the next landfill could pollute the groundwater on the islands.

Because of overlaps in federal, state, and local regulations, all four potential landfill areas are well above drinking water aquifers. Mike Kaiser, a senior Project Manager with HDR, which is a construction company that works with the city to build the new landfill, spoke at the meeting about the many safety features built into modern landfills.

These pipes collect leachate and contaminated water from landfills. Regular leachate removal is done and the regulations do not allow more than 12 inches of contaminated water to be present in these pipes at any one time.

Cynthia Rezentes, however, is a member and former member of this committee. National Environmental Justice Advisory CouncilHe pointed out that the same regulations existed before the 2010-2011 storms and that landfill operators knew they were breaking many rules.

2013 Waimanalo Gulch was also awarded a check by the city $1.1 million civil penaltyAfter releasing air toxics, organic compounds, and potent greenhouse gases methane between 2002 and 2005, which was which Violation of the Clean Air Act.

Ill be the first to admit we have made a lot of mistakes in the past and we’re definitely trying to learn from them, city planner Josh Nagashima said in response to Rezentes questions about leachate.

Making A ‘More Robust’ Landfill

Waimanalo Gulch landfill boasts a very robust catchment system, which was strengthened after the disaster at Ko Olina. However, we will be looking at making the new landfill even more robust.

The city is pushing for a double-liner system at the new landfill. This would go beyond federal requirements and could increase costs. Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill was first constructed in 1989 with a single-liner system. However, all new construction has been done using a double-liner since 2010.

Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill, Oahu’s only municipal landfill, sits inland of Ko Olina resort, Kapolei’s Honokai Hale community and Campbell Industrial Park.

Waimanalo gulch currently has nine monitoring holes. Here, water and soil samples are periodically tested for contaminants to determine if they have leaked from the landfill. OKeefe hopes that Waimanalo Gulch will have more monitoring wells.

He said that there is concern about the landfill being near to sensitive natural resources such as our freshwater drinking systems.

However, any additional protection can come with additional costs.

Waimanalo Gulch spent $15 million on a new dam, and stormwater diversion system, before the 2010-2011 hurricane. Additional upgrades costing thousands of dollars were made after the overflow.

And then the 2013 Clean Air Act settlementThe landfill operator claimed that it spent $1.5million to design and build a gas collection system.

OKeefe explained that because we don’t have a site yet we don’t know how much such measures might cost. The actual mitigation measures can vary greatly depending on the site.

Drought is less concerning, but can lead to higher costs. To keep dust from blowing into the surrounding areas, landfill workers spray water all over the site. OKeefe believes that prolonged periods of drought can impact the cost for water. However from a management perspective, OKeefe said that a dry area is better than one with high levels of particulates.

Of all of the climate change-related impacts that we could be faced with, drought might be the one that’s most easily able to be dealt with, he said. Stormwater that leads into leachate is the biggest challenge in landfill management. The less rain means less leachate runoff, which can make it easier to manage landfills.

According to recent estimates, the new landfill will cost $210 million, cover 80 acres, and be open for twenty years. That’s part of the reason the Department of Environmental Services is dedicating a significant portion of 2022 to reducing waste, extending the life of the landfill and trying to reduce the carbon footprint of the islands waste management system.

A sankey chart showing the flow of waste on Oahu. Most municipal waste goes to H-Power or is recycled, with a small amount going right to the landfill. Ash from H-Power goes to the landfill. Most construction and demolition waste is recycled, with only a small amount going to the landfill. Overall, about 84% of Oahu's waste was diverted from the landfill in 2020.
Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2021 Source: City and County of Honolulu Department of Environmental ServicesDiagram created using SankeyMATIC 

Attenuating the Climate Change Effects

Transportation and energy production are both important. The majority of Hawaii’s carbon emissions are from HawaiiWaste management has a significant effect on the state’s carbon footprint.

OKeefe has set his sights on reducing the amount waste that must be brought to H-Power. This is the island’s waste-to-power incinerator.

H-Power prevents hundreds, hundreds, and even thousands of tons of waste annually from being disposed of in landfills. However, the process of burning does produce greenhouse gases.

H-Power produces about 10% of the islands’ electricity, and emits 746,228 tonnes of greenhouse gassesIn 2020, it was the fourth-highest emitter in the state. The garbage trucks that transport 94% of the islands’ waste to H-Power, then transport the rest to the landfill, use a lot of gasoline. 25602 metric tons were emittedLast year, there was a record amount of methane.

So thats why in the new year, we’re going to be convening a source reduction working group that’s going to come together and discuss how we can affect policy to minimize the amount of waste that’s generated to begin with, OKeefe said.

OKefe stated that the group will investigate opportunities to compost food waste, reduce packaging, and use food waste and sewerage to generate electricity.

He said that we really want to see initiatives that reduce the effects of climate change.

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