Desalination project could be ready in 2 years

WAILUKU – The proposed desalination system on Lanai could be ready by the end of 2015, with the first phase of the project generating 2.5 million gallons of water per day, said officials from developer Pulama Lana’i.

Work has already begun on the Manele Desalination System on the island’s southern end, which Pulama Lana’i officials say is critical to the island. It will serve the Manele area, which includes residential homes, the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay, The Challenge at Manele golf course, Hulopoe beach park and the Manele Small Boat Harbor.

Eventually, officials see the system generating up to 10 million gallons per day and supporting agriculture developments as well. Currently, the Manele area uses around 1.1 million gallons of water per day, officials said.

The desalination system above The Challenge at Manele is just one of many projects proposed by Pulama Lana’i, the entity overseeing development and operations for the island, the majority of which is owned by billionaire Larry Ellison.

The California software guru bought 98 percent of the island from Castle & Cooke last summer. Ellison envisions a third resort on the island, more housing and a second airport runway.

Pulama Lana’i officials were making informational presentations about the desalination system last week, including to the Maui County Council’s Water Resources Committee on Thursday afternoon and to the Lanai Planning Commission on Wednesday, a meeting that drew a packed house, residents reported.

Pulama Lana’i in the coming weeks will be pulling water samples from its drilling that began the first week of August in Manele, said Arlan Chun, Pulama Lana’i’s senior vice president of development and construction.

He told council members Thursday that the company plans to conduct a test run for 90 to 100 days in February to allow the state Department of Health to evaluate the system, including analyzing the quality of the water.

Although the desalination project process is moving forward, in response to a question from the council committee, Chun noted a variety of permits and approvals that the company still needs to receive before the project can come to fruition.

The system will consist of three wells that will be drilled, with one used as a backup.

Chun said that the area where the wells will be located and the area where the resulting brine will be disposed of will be around 0.7 mile apart.

Tom Nance, a hydrology expert from Oahu who is also working on the project, said that where the water is drawn and where the brine will be placed back into the ocean will be separated laterally and vertically to prevent contamination.

Water will be drawn 50 to 145 feet below the water’s surface, while the disposal wells will be 160 to 300 feet below the surface, Nance said.

Officials said that the brine will end up hundreds of feet off shore and will take more than a year to travel its route and, in the process, will mix in with the ocean water to levels that will be undetectable.

It also appears there will not be any impact in the nearshore areas of the island, officials said.

The treatment is a nonchemical one and involves membranes separating the “water from salt” in the seawater, said Mark Lambert, chief executive officer of IDE Americas, a subsidiary of IDE Technologies, whose system Pulama Lana’i is using.

Although Kurt Matsumoto, chief operating officer of Pulama Lana’i, later added that chlorine will be used to treat the water, the chlorine will not be put down the disposal well.

Lambert said that the whole plant setup that will be at Manele is able to fit into a football field and there will be pre-fabricated components at the site.

Officials said that the system will run on generators using liquified natural gas that will be shipped onto the island. The system can also use diesel as a backup fuel. The system will not be tied into Maui Electric Co.’s grid, officials added.

Responding to a question by Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa about how much the private system will cost, Matsumoto said that the company is close to arriving at a cost figure, “but nothing we want to share at this time.”

He did say it is a “significant cost” and added “it’s too costly not to engage in this activity,” pointing out that having more water can spur more economic opportunity for the island.

Also in response to a question from Baisa, Matsumoto said that the company has no plans to transfer the cost of the system to its customers.

“That’s a big relief,” Baisa said.

IDE will operate the plant initially and then train employees to do the job. The Lanai system is expected to generate 10 to 15 jobs, officials said.

IDE is headquartered in Kadima, Israel, and has fully owned subsidiaries in China, India and the United States.

It has installed 400 units in more than 40 countries. The company said it is a “world leader” in thermal, membrane and freezing desalination technologies.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at