History and Mission Statement

Program Mission

The mission of the Clean Water Branch is to protect the public health of residents and tourists who recreate in and on Hawaii’s coastal and inland water resources, and to also protect and restore inland and coastal waters for marine life and wildlife. This mission is accomplished through statewide coastal water surveillance and watershed-based environmental management through a combination of permit issuance, monitoring, enforcement, polluted runoff control projects, and public education.

Historical Perspective

Federal Laws and Regulations

Congress passed the federal Water Pollution Control Act which, with subsequent amendments, is commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act (CWA), in 1972 (P.L. 92-500). The preamble to the CWA states that the goal of the Act is to ensure that the nation’s waters are “fishable and swimmable.” The 1987 Federal Water Quality Act Amendments (P.L. 100-4) placed new emphasis on nonpoint source pollution management and contained specific requirements and responsibilities for state nonpoint source pollution programs, including submittal of a Nonpoint Source Assessment Report and a Management Plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval.

The Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990 required Hawaii, as one of the states with a federally approved coastal zone management (CZM) program, to develop and implement a coastal nonpoint pollution control program, to be approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA. State programs must be developed jointly by the coastal zone management agency (Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism) and the water quality agency (Department of Health, DOH).

State History

The Hawaii water pollution control program began in the late 1960s in the Sanitary Engineering Branch of the Department of Health. This Branch included the water pollution control program, wastewater treatment facility construction grants program, and drinking water and swimming pool approval programs, and was staffed by four engineers and five environmental health specialists. In 1973, the Hawaii State Legislature formally established the water pollution control program through Act 100, which was codified as Chapter 342, Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS), “Environmental Quality.” Then, in November of 1974, EPA delegated the administration of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit program in Hawaii to DOH. The NPDES program is the national program for controlling point source discharges of pollutants to waters of the State through uniform permitting procedures.

In 1974, passage of Act 249 represented Hawaii’s initial attempt to address nonpoint source pollution problems by instructing each of the counties to develop an ordinance requiring grading permits for erosion control in urban areas. In response to Clean Water Act requirements, each of Hawaii’s counties, with assistance from the DOH, developed CWA Section 208 Water Quality Management Plans (mid and late 1970s). The plans were initially approved by the EPA in 1979 and 1980, and updated in 1993 to include descriptions of the Federal, State, and County roles in managing water pollution.

In 1978, the Environmental Protection and Health Services Division (EHSD) of the DOH separated the programs into functional branches. Water pollution control program responsibilities were divided between the Pollution Technical Review and Pollution Investigation and Enforcement Branches. In 1981, the Pollution Technical Review Branch was subdivided into the Environmental Permits Branch and the Construction Grants Branch. The latter program became responsible for the construction grants program and the review and approval of wastewater treatment works for domestic and animal waste systems. In another reorganization in 1989, the environmental management programs were grouped into the Environmental Management Division and reorganized into media-specific branches, including the Clean Water Branch. Also in 1989, Act 212 separated Chapter 342, HRS, into media-specific statutes, thus establishing Chapter 342D, “Water Pollution.”

In 1990, Act 298 and other acts established authority for the Hawaii Administrative Rules (HAR), Chapter 11-55 (formerly Chapter 37), “Water Pollution Control,” and HAR Chapter 11-54 (formerly Chapter 37-A), “Water Quality Standards.” In November of 1990, Hawaii’s Nonpoint Source Water Pollution Management Plan and Hawaii’s Assessment of Nonpoint Source Pollution Water Quality Problems were completed. Then in 1993, Act 345 established the authority for a Nonpoint Source Pollution Program in the Department of Health through HRS, Chapter 342E, Nonpoint Source Management and Control. Currently (1998), Hawaii is seeking to obtain approval of its Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program: Management Plan which was prepared by the Hawaii Coastal Zone Management Program in collaboration with the DOH.

Organizational Structure

The Clean Water Branch is structured to implement and maintain the Statewide Clean Water Program for recreational and ecosystem protection through services including engineering analysis and permitting, water quality monitoring and investigation, water quality violation enforcement, and polluted runoff (nonpoint source pollution) management.

Engineering Section

The Engineering Section administers the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program for discharges of wastewater from new, old, or modified point sources from municipal, industrial and federal facilities; administers the NPDES permit program for discharges of storm water from municipal systems and industrial facilities; and issues Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certifications for federal permits for construction in nearshore and inland waters. The Engineering section also oversees the City and County of Honolulu’s Publicly Owned Treatment Works Pre-Treatment Program.

Monitoring & Analysis Section

The Monitoring & Analysis Section conducts statewide water quality monitoring, assesses water quality every two years in the Integrated Report, issues Brown Water Advisories and other advisories to protect public health, revises the State’s Water Quality Standards (HAR Chapter 11-54), and conducts water quality related studies.

Compliance and Enforcement Section

The Compliance and Enforcement Section protects State waters and the health of those who recreate in them by overseeing compliance of NPDES regulated facilities, conducting inspections and investigations to determine compliance with NPDES permits, and carrying out enforcement actions in response to water pollution violations.

Polluted Runoff Control Program

The Polluted Runoff Control Program implements the CWA Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program. Its primary purpose is to restore impaired waters by implementing watershed-based plans. The program fosters partnerships with other agencies involved in nonpoint source pollution control, implements BMPs to reduce polluted runoff, develops watershed plans, conducts water quality monitoring, and supports programs for environmental education. The program also develops the State’s Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program with the Hawai’i CZM Program.


Given the diversity, complexity, and scope of the environmental problems of concern today, it is critical that efforts to protect the environment are better integrated and more focused on opportunities for environmental improvement than in the past. Integration means that risks associated with current environmental problems need to be assessed and efforts targeted at the most serious problems. The major new challenges foreseen for the next 5-10 years are in the area of polluted runoff control.

Watershed Management Initiatives

The role that the Clean Water Branch plays in initiating and/or encouraging watershed management activities is still in its infancy (see Objective 6). Each watershed has a different community composition and different environmental problems. Identifying the common interests of the stakeholders in the community and rallying them to volunteer time to a particular long-term cause is a challenge. Major challenges still exist to accomplish and expand watershed management initiatives statewide. For example, the Ala Wai Canal Watershed Project supports and empowers a nonprofit organization as a partner to work with the community to identify and implement polluted runoff control projects necessary to achieve common environmental management goals of both communities and agencies.

New Statewide Monitoring Strategy

The success of the Clean Water Program is measured by monitoring surface water quality throughout the State. At this time, the statewide monitoring strategy is being completely revised (see Objective 3). Major components of the new monitoring program plan will be:

Routine monitoring of public beaches, followed by management action when bacteria levels are significantly above water quality standards;

Collection of surface water chemistry data to determine if long-term trends in water quality are present; and

Assessment of the condition of the State’s streams and watersheds.

These data are used to prepare reports required by EPA: the CWA Section 303(d) List of Water Quality-Limited Segments, and the CWA 305(b) Report on the State of the State’s Waters. Data are also summarized and will be placed on the Clean Water Branch web site on a quarterly basis. These reports are prepared in the spring of even-numbered years and are made available to the public.

Community Awareness/Education

Community-based environmental protection requires an informed public. Building community awareness and education programs also require considerable resources, both in dollars and people (see  Objectives 5 & 6). The challenge will be to maximize the limited resources available to get the most and best information to the Hawaii community.

Prioritized Objectives & Strategies

Objective A.
Control point source discharges by issuing appropriate NPDES permits to maintain designated uses of State receiving waters.


Administer and enforce statewide water pollution laws and rules.   This objective is achieved through permitting of point sources, compliance monitoring, inspections, investigations of complaints, and ambient water quality monitoring.

The NPDES permit program remains the centerpiece of the water  pollution control effort for our receiving waters. The challenge for the permit program is to improve and enhance program capability by issuing individual permits according to a five-year plan, and by providing technical assistance and training. Control of storm water discharges is a high priority for the EPA and the State. During 1990, the Department worked in partnership with EPA to incorporate storm
water permitting authority and water quality-based standards into NPDES permits. By October, 1997, the State had to renew the General Permits for industrial storm water discharges and integrate this program activity into revisions of the five-year plan.

The latest federal mandate affecting the Clean Water Branch is contained in Section 402 (p) of the 1987 Amendments to the Clean Water Act, which requires municipalities with a population over 100,000, certain industrial facilities, and owners/operators of construction activities which disturb five acres or more to submit permit applications for the discharge of storm water. Non-storm water discharges from construction dewatering, underground storage tank
remediation discharges, cooling water discharges less than 1 million gallons/day, hydrotesting water from water tanks or piping systems, effluent discharges from petroleum bulk stations and terminals, and effluent discharges from well drilling activities are also covered by General Permits. (See Figure 22.)

Although approximately 500 permits are currently under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Branch for monitoring and compliance, EPA did not provide additional funding for handling the increased workload imposed by the storm water program. In addition, the EPA will be issuing new regulations for Phase II of the storm water program to cover those facilities not covered in Phase I.

Objective B.
Ensure that Section 404 permitted activities will not adversely impact the designated uses of the State receiving waters.


Administer the CWA Section 401 Water Quality Certification (WQC), a requirement under the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Section 404 Permit Program. A WQC is a “statement of reasonable assurance that the construction activity will comply with the applicable provisions of the State’s water quality standards.”  Construction activities include dredge-and-fill work in our nearshore and inland waters.

The key to implementation of the WQC program will be streamlining the certification process. Serious consideration will be given during the CWA 404 permit renewals to “conditionally certify” the nationwide and general permits in order to reduce processing time in the Department of Health.

Objective C.
Identify impaired water bodies and restore their designated uses.


Enhance the ambient Water Quality Monitoring Program to include a new monitoring effort directed towards toxic chemical monitoring to establish baseline data for the purpose of adopting standards to control waste discharges.

Assess the impact of streams entering recreational beaches through a joint monitoring program with the City and County of Honolulu.  Information gained on contaminates will be used to address the problem at the source.


  1. protocols and resources in cooperation with the University of Hawaii to monitor pathogens in polluted runoff and waste water. Public health will be protected through preventing exposure to those pathogens; and
  2. partnerships with the community through a water quality monitoring program using volunteers from various neighborhoods in the State. Hire a volunteer monitoring coordinator and develop a work plan and budget for a fully implemented program for the nonpoint source program for selected watersheds.

Prepare a biennial report on the overall condition of the state’s recreational waters and submit the report to EPA. This is not a high priority activity, but is nonetheless required by EPA.

Identify and prioritize, on a biennial basis and with EPA assistance, a list of Hawaii’s most polluted waters (the CWA 303(d) List of Water Quality-Limited Segments) and submit the list to EPA for review and approval. From this list the Clean Water Branch will select one or two water bodies each year and perform a pollutant analysis (termed a ‘total maximum daily load,’ or TMDL) to identify management measures needed to improve the quality of the listed waterbody.

Develop a new Statewide Monitoring Strategy and watershed monitoring plan in accordance with EPA guidelines, new technologies, additional resources, and laboratory capabilities.

Objective D.
Ensure expeditious compliance with State water pollution rules.


Maintain the high level of enforcement awareness required by the delegation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. The Department must obtain additional resources to increase the number staff devoted to enforcement in order to fully implement this strategy.

Implement pollution prevention strategies to reduce the incidence of permit violations. Incorporate these strategies into the permitting and enforcement functions of the branch.

Objective E.
Control polluted runoff through public/private partnerships.


Foster partnerships with other governmental, business, and nonprofit agencies involved in nonpoint source pollution control; promote community-based watershed management through education and voluntary compliance; provide federal dollars for demonstration projects relating to non point source control; encourage and support programs for environmental education; and promote pollution control projects in watersheds with water bodies that have been designated as impaired.  Successful demonstration projects are promoted to encourage landowners to apply the same techniques as best management practices.

Work with partners in:

  1. reducing runoff of contaminants (e.g. oil, asbestos, heavy metals and solvents) from roads into surface waters;
  2. reducing nutrient losses from non point sources;
  3. improving drainage design and management of storm water; and
  4. reducing pollutants from emergency dewatering activities.

Objective F.
Improve water quality in priority watersheds.


Promote new watershed management initiatives, and look for opportunities to work with local community-based nonprofit organizations interested in pursuing watershed management and support their efforts.

Objective G.
Develop appropriate Water Quality Standards.


Increase the number of chemical and biological databases to develop scientifically valid criteria that will support enforcement actions.

Establish institutional measures, (e.g. medical and scientific advisory committees, policies, etc.) that promote and increase DOH efforts (budgeting and funding research) on improved/innovative technologies, methods and procedures in assessment of human health risks associated with water quality.

Fill data gaps on toxics.

Explore additional site-specific numerical/narrative standards as needed and appropriate.

Performance  Measures

Objective A.
Control point source discharges through the issuance of appropriate NPDES permits to maintain the designated uses of State receiving waters.

Performance Measures:

*Percentage of assessed water bodies that protect public health and the environment by meeting designated uses for fishing, recreation and aquatic life.

*Percentage of facilities implementing wet weather control measures.

Percentage of evaluated waters free of impairment by point-source pollution.

Number of permits issued.

Objective B. Ensure that CWA Section 404 permitted activities will not adversely impact the designated uses of the State receiving waters.

Performance Measures:

Percentage of water bodies which have undergone CWA Section 404 permitted activities that meet designated beneficial uses.

Number of certifications issued, waived, or denied.

Objective C. Identify impaired water bodies and restore their designated uses.

Performance Measures:

*Percentage change in selected pollutants found in surface waters.

Number of times proactive monitoring prevented possible human exposure to unsafe water quality.

Completion of a new Statewide Monitoring Strategy.

Additional resources and training secured and utilized to implement the new Statewide Monitoring Strategy.

Number of assessed water bodies, and TMDLs in process and completed.

Objective D. Ensure expeditious compliance with State water pollution rules.

Performance Measures:

Total number of major and minor NPDES facilities versus number of major and minor facilities that are in significant noncompliance (SNC) with their NPDES permit conditions. [SNC: 40 CFR 123.45 Violations of  permit effluent limits that exceed the Appendix A “Criteria for Noncompliance Reporting in the NPDES Program”.]

Number of violation letters issued to NPDES-permitted facilities and to facilities without NPDES permits.

Number of civil referrals sent to the Attorney General; number of civil cases filed; number of civil cases concluded and penalties assessed and collected.

Number of criminal referrals filed in State Court; number of criminal referrals concluded and penalties assessed and collected.

Number of NPDES permittees inspected.

Objective E.
Control polluted runoff through public/private partnerships.

Performance Measures:

Percentage of evaluated waters free of impairment by nonpoint source pollutants.

Number of innovative/demonstration projects, including volunteer programs.

Number of community or agency based committees formed to address polluted runoff.

Objective F. Improve water quality in priority watersheds.

Performance Measures:

Number of new watershed management initiatives in the state.

Objective G.
Develop appropriate Water Quality Standards.

Performance Measures:

*Percentage of assessed rivers and estuaries with healthy aquatic communities.

Adoption of new Water Quality Standards.

Status of the triennial review of Water Quality Standards.

(*These measures have been designated ‘Core Performance Measures’ by EPA, and will be tracked by the DOH and reported both locally and nationally.)