Disputed wells may soon be in service

The county Department of Water Supply has completed a final environmental assessment and has issued a finding of no significant environmental impact for the reopening of two Hamakuapoko water wells.

The wells may be ready to go back into use this summer or fall, said Dave Taylor, director of the department.

In 2006, the Maui County Council passed an ordinance banning the wells’ use because of health concerns about using water tainted with agricultural contaminants, including DBCP. In October 2011, the council reversed itself, passing a bill to allow water from the wells to be used for agricultural purposes, for public consumption during droughts and as a backup to the county’s Upcountry water system.

The wells were originally put into water production in 2000, according to information submitted by the county to the state Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Quality Control.

While the wells are known to be contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals, scientists and regulators with the Health Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have said filtration and treatment would make the water safe for human consumption by removing the contaminants to undetectable levels. Similar decontamination is used for wells for water consumed in Napili and West Oahu.

On Tuesday, Taylor said that the county was required to do an environmental assessment for reopening the Hamakuapoko wells, built years ago, because the original environmental impact statement for the wells said they were to be used as a Central Maui water source.

Now, the department plans to use water from the wells as an Upcountry water source, he said.

The department needs to replace equipment in the wells and might construct a small water tank, before beginning to reuse the wells by summer or fall, Taylor said.

Plans call for building a new 150,000-gallon water tank next to well site No. 2. Various repair and maintenance work also needs to be done to address deferred maintenance before the wells can reopen, and the county needs to get a pump installation permit from the state Commission on Water Resource Management, according to information filed with the Health Department.

During debate before the County Council in October 2011, residents were divided about whether the wells should be reopened. A number of testifiers asked council members to allow the wells to be used to help drought-plagued Upcountry, where many residents are unable to get water meters and have been waiting for years for permits to build family homes and subdivisions.

The administration of Mayor Alan Arakawa supported reopening the wells, maintaining that the water can be treated and made safe for drinking.

A number of residents remained unconvinced that the water, even when treated, would be safe for human consumption. They said they were distrustful of the government’s ability to safeguard public safety.

Council Member Elle Cochran tried to ban human consumption of water from the Hamakuapoko wells, but her attempts to include such language in the bill reopening the wells failed because she had no support from fellow council members.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.