Wellhead protection legislation advances

WAILUKU – The county Department of Water Supply is advancing a bill that would minimize drinking water contamination by regulating future construction upstream of existing department wells.

Water Director Dave Taylor presented the proposed wellhead protection measure late last year to the Board of Water Supply, which had its final meeting on the bill Thursday morning.

“We’re not talking about building a fence up there and kicking people out. We’re saying can we do a little bit and get a big return on that investment,” Taylor told the board.

The bill calls for three types of zones:

* Zone A; a fixed 50-foot radius around each well to help prevent vandalism, tampering and other threats.

* Zone B; distance varies, based on survival rates of bacteria and viruses that seep into soil and groundwater from nearby businesses and activities. The restriction is based on computer models by the state Department of Health and the University of Hawaii, which determined that the contaminants must not reach a well within two years, the estimated survival time for such pathogens.

* Zone C; distance varies, based on accidental chemical spills. Chemicals cannot reach a well within a 10-year period, as to allow enough time to “implement management and remedial measures to mitigate contamination.”

Uses that are prohibited in Zones B and C include golf courses, graveyards, landfills and slaughterhouses. Uses that require permit in those zones include car washes, gas stations and hospitals.

Pam Pogue, a department planning program manager, told the board that officials with Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. “appear to be misunderstanding” the bill.

Pogue pointed to comments made by company officials who claimed the bill’s “major intent” is protection against pesticides.

“Pesticide applications are only one of a range of potentially contaminating activities addressed in wellhead protection,” she said.

During her remarks, Pogue pointed to water supply contamination this month in West Virginia where approximately 300,000 residents were without clean tap water for several days.

“It isn’t a question of if, it’s when (our) wells are contaminated, where do we get the water in the meantime?” Pogue asked. “Forty-nine other states have taken this approach because of these concerns.”

Although board members acknowledged the department’s concerns, the panel took a position against the current draft of the bill by a vote of 5 to 1. Board member Michael Suzuki was the lone dissenting vote, and Vice Chairman John Hoxie and board member James Rust were not in attendance.

“There did not appear to be any justifiable need, nor were there any historical examples presented during testimony that showed any failures of these current county, state and federal regulations,” the letter said. “Adopting additional groundwater regulations, such as this ordinance before the board, would be redundant unless there could be some clearly demonstrated scenarios presented by the department detailing prior failures within our current regulatory system.”

Mercer “Chubby” Vicens, former vice president of Alexander & Baldwin, the parent company of HC&S, was in agreement with the board’s letter, adding that “there’s so many unanswered questions.”

“Sometimes when the county tries to take on a responsibility that is clouded, this is what happens,” Vicens said. “So therefore, I think that we have to work together, and we certainly will work together.”

Following the board’s decision, Taylor said he was not discouraged.

The bill moves on to a review by the Maui Planning Commission, which will make a recommendation to the Maui County Council for final action.

“There seems to be a misunderstanding of the facts, and I think we are going to need to do a better job moving forward on explaining what this bill is, and what it isn’t, and why it’s necessary,” he said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.