How Hawaii Cesspool Conversion Laws Affect Homeowners Like You

Michael has been living in Kailua-Kona for a long time.

He knows the best restaurants, swimming holes, and backroads. After so many years it feels like he was born on the island. This place is his home and he loves it.

Recently, he’s been having some concerns. He keeps hearing a lot about Hawaii cesspool conversion and contamination. Apparently, the government is putting a stop to human waste from cesspools damaging the water and environment.

Michael owns a cesspool. He doesn’t want to be responsible for polluting and damaging the island. He decides to do his own research to see what he can find out about this cesspool conversion law.

What he finds isn’t pretty.

Convert your cesspool to a septic system >>

How Cesspools Are Damaging Hawaii And Its People (aka Us)

Cesspools in Hawaii release around 53 million gallons of untreated sewage every day (page 3). 

That is about 459,000,000 pounds of human waste heading towards our water supply. As it makes its way downward, it does damage by:

  1. Degrading our drinking water
  2. Increasing algae growth
  3. Killing coral

We are basically killing the islands on which we live.

Diagram of how a cesspool works

Michael can’t believe what he is reading. He keeps going, dreading what else he will find.

Not only that but we are hurting ourselves too: “When wastewater is not properly treated or disposed of, pollutants…enter nearby coastal waters, streams and possibly groundwater, where they can contaminate water sources…and make waters unsafe for swimming and other recreation.” (

After reading this, Michael agrees that something must be done. He doesn’t want anyone swimming in polluted waters, much less his family.

Thankfully, we are putting a stop to this practice. Governor Ige banned new cesspool construction back in 2016 as the first step.

But that is only the beginning.

Act 125 And Its Impact On Us Hawaii Residents

Michael’s research leads him to Act 125, the saving grace of Hawaii cesspools.

Act 125 is a law that “Requires upgrade, conversion, or sewer connection of all cesspools in the State before 2050 unless exempted. Broadens eligibility criteria for tax credit to offset costs. Requires the Department of Health to investigate existing cesspools, assess incentive programs, and report to the Legislature”. 

Michael is glad the government is taking an active approach to correct this terrible problem.

In other words, our cesspools are going to be made more environmentally friendly before 2050. Septic tank systems are a great alternative. Septic systems work by separating grit, solids, oil, and other wastes from the wastewater before it goes into the ground.

But we do have to pay for it.

Hawaii cesspool conversion to septic tank like this one

Michael blinks a couple of times in surprise. So, he has to pay for his own Hawaii cesspool conversion that the government is enforcing?

That’s right. We have to pay to convert our cesspools to septic tanks or whichever option you choose. It isn’t cheap either.

Your guide to septic tanks for Hawaii >>

But then, if our water quality declines, then so does:

  1. Our tourism
  2. Our health
  3. Our living environment

So yes, the upfront cost isn’t pleasant. But if tourism declines then so will our economy. We also don’t want our families getting sick from drinking bad water or swimming with cuts in contaminated water.

Michael thinks the cost is worth it. His business runs on tourism. Without it, it’s likely that his business will fail and he will have to declare bankruptcy.

At least he and everyone else has 30 years to make the conversion. Thankfully, some people can get a temporary income tax credit. 

Act 120 And Its Impact On Hawaii Cesspool Owners

Michael and everyone else only have until December 31, 2020, to claim it.

You are eligible for it if your cesspool is “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).”

You can apply for a credit of up to $10,000 per qualified cesspool.

Michael’s cesspool fits these criteria, so he heads to to fill out the forms.

Saving Our Island

In the short run, we have to pay out of our own pocket to save our island. It may take a lot of saving and working, but it can be done. But in the long run, our island will be healthier and more attractive to tourists (who help our economy). In the end, it’s worth it.

Converting a cesspool to a septic tank in Kona >>