Water shortages bill approved on 1st reading

WAILUKU – A bill that authorizes the mayor and the Department of Water Supply director to declare “water shortages” and to impose higher rates for Maui County residents is one step closer to becoming law with the Maui County Council on Friday approving the measure on first reading.

The bill, which is intended to address severe short-term water shortages, from drought to mechanical water equipment breakdowns in the county, will go before the council for second and final reading March 1. If approved, the measure then will be sent to Mayor Alan Arakawa for approval.

Arakawa’s office said Friday that the mayor intends to sign the bill.

All nine members of the council voted in favor of the bill Friday that also includes penalties of water meter removal and fines for noncompliance.

Water Resources Committee Chairman Mike Victorino said that “there is still a lot of concern in the county at large” about the bill that will affect all customers. He said that the drought declarations and higher rates only will be done in cases of “very dire need.”

The water shortage declaration will be made by the director of water supply with the approval of the mayor, according to the measure.

No one from the public testified or submitted written testimony on the matter Friday.

The bill would amend the Maui County Code to give the water director, with the approval of the mayor, the power to declare a water shortage. It also would expand the director’s declaration to encompass mechanical malfunction and human error as well as droughts and other acts of nature.

The bill establishes two stages of severity within the water shortage declaration that would trigger increased rates with the goal of reducing consumption. The rate structure will be established in a separate ordinance during the council’s next budget cycle.

Water department officials have said their proposals call for different rates for agricultural and general water users with agricultural users paying significantly lower rates.

The higher rates are broken down into two stages in the bill that was heard Friday.

A “Stage 1” water shortage is activated if the director anticipates water demand in an area to exceed available water supply by up to 20 percent.

A “Stage 2” water shortage is called if the director determines projected demand will exceed 20 percent of available water.

After a water shortage has been declared, a number of measures may be pursued including voluntary and/or mandatory restrictions, the special water rates yet to be set, and prohibition of water use for irrigation, lawns, construction subdivisions or the installation of any new meter or new water service, according to the bill.

Those who do not comply with schedules, restrictions or other measures ordered during the shortage, also can face penalties such as having their water meter removed. This also would include $100 for reinstallation of the meter.

Violators can face a fine of not more than $500 for each violation, as well, the proposed bill said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.