Meter waitlist getting pared down faster

Extra staff triples the response, but there are 1,700 still waiting

Gladys Baisa

WAILUKU — Maui County’s water department is expected to make 120 offers for water meters in Upcountry this year, one of the highest annual totals since the department began paring the 1,900 property waitlist that was closed in 2013.

“I think everyone is dedicated to moving the list along. I know that we are going to push further and further,” acting Water Supply Director Gladys Baisa told the Board of Water Supply on Thursday afternoon.

The increase is the result of having more staff to tackle the list, Baisa said, thanking the Maui County Council for making funds available to increase hirings, including engineers.

With the increased staff, the department is able to send out 40 letters to property owners at a time, at least double the 10 or 20 letters before.

In 2017, there were 43 offers for water meters and in 2016, there were 45 offers, said Wendy Taomoto, engineering program manager for the water department. She did not know how many offers were accepted. Each offer could have been for more than one meter.

The 120 offers may be high, but it is a small percentage of the 1,728 properties on the wait list at the beginning of the year. Initially, the wait list was closed with 1,887 properties in 2013.

Taomoto explained the process the department goes through. The department sends out letters along with a stack of documents to the property owners offering a meter.

The property owner has 30 days to accept or not. While awaiting a response, the department assists those receiving letters, answering questions and concerns, said Taomoto. No more letters are sent out during the term.

Taomoto said that sometimes around half of meters offered are declined. She attributed this to plans changing during the long wait and the high cost of additional requirements accompanying the meter.

Other landowners may have already hooked up to a private water system, which includes well water or catchment systems, she said.

Baisa indicated that the 30-day decision-making time period may be too short, and the department is looking to amend county law to extend the deadline.

Some people suddenly learn after decades of waiting that they now have an opportunity to obtain a meter. Sometimes landowners have to contact multiple owners and/or family members who may live off-island.

The priority list was established in 1994 to control the expanded use of surface water in the face of droughts and calls for water restrictions Upcountry.

Water department officials now say that source issues are no longer the main reason for the backlog.

In another matter, Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel Caleb Rowe gave the board an update on the state Commission on Water Resource Management’s June decision establishing East Maui interim instream flow standards. The county receives water from some East Maui streams.

In the decision, the commission ordered the full restoration of flows to 10 streams in East Maui for taro growing and limited or no diversions for another seven streams to restore habitats. Na Moku Aupuni O Koolau, a community of taro farmers, fishermen, hunters and traditional practitioners in East Maui, petitioned to have stream flows restored to 27 East Maui streams.

Alexander & Baldwin has been diverting the streams since the 1870s, through ditches, tunnels and siphons for its sugar cane fields in Upcountry and Central Maui. Maui County also obtains water through the system.

Rowe told the commission there were “a couple of really, really, good things” that came out of the decision.

One of them was that four streams were deemed “public use streams,” which is a strong recognition for the streams from which the county draws water. It gives the county protection to use the streams on par with Native Hawaiian gathering rights.

The commission also allowed the county to continue to use the streams that feed the Piiholo and Olinda water treatment facilities.

Rowe said the tricky part of the decision is that the county gets water from the Wailoa Ditch, which is operated by East Maui Irrigation Co. Its parent company is A&B. Water from the Wailoa Ditch feeds the county’s Kamole water treatment facility in Haliimaile.

The commission gave only the amount of water that should be in the ditch and did not specify how much water could be drawn, he said.

The county calculates there is about 19 million gallons of water per day in the ditch. Currently, the county draws 3.6 mgd at Kamole and 1.5 mgd for the Kula Agricultural Park.

There are plans to expand the park, which would increase the water take to 2.5 mgd, Rowe said. The total the county would need is 6.1 mgd.

“Our water should be accounted for,” he said.

Another factor is whether EMI gets a long-term water lease from the state and how much water would be available to the county.

“The water is there, whether or not it’s ours, kind of remains a question,” he said.

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

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