County Council at crossroads again with funding of water improvements

How do you think the Maui County Council should prioritize water improvements this year?

On March 18, before the current budget session began, I chaired a Water Resources Committee meeting to accept a presentation from Water Director Dave Taylor on the county’s current and future water needs.

The department’s 20-year growth projection requires about $200 million to merely maintain and replace aging infrastructure. Another estimated $200 million will be needed for expansion to meet projected future demands.

The needs – and policy issues – are particularly acute in my residency district of Upcountry Maui.

Population projections and the Upcountry water meter list are incompatible. Water infrastructure is simply inadequate to address the projected demand.

We need to build water systems. But at what cost?

According to Taylor, revenue from the county’s other districts is used to provide water to Upcountry users, because delivery to that area is so costly.

The Department of Water Supply must rely on increases in rates and fees to have enough funds for infrastructure improvement, including storage, transmission, treatment and repairs.

The department proposes a $91.3 million budget for the next fiscal year and, as expected, an increase in the water rates and water system development fees.

How will the council manage to prioritize Upcountry water development without penalizing constituents throughout the county with increases in water rates and fees?

At my committee meeting, the department also presented some highlights from its proposed fiscal year 2016 budget.

A big item is a $15 million expansion of the Iao Treatment Facility. The director said the facility is nearing the end of its useful life.

In addition, the settlement of the Na Wai Eha legal dispute allocated an extra 1.5 million gallons per day to the county, which will require facility improvements to accommodate.

Changes to the department’s offices are also proposed to provide a more customer-oriented layout.

The department is also proposing a $1 million billing system replacement project. Currently, the county outsources its billing to the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.

Council members will conduct several budget hearings throughout the county this week, and public input is needed to help us make decisions on water and other pressing issues.

Meetings are scheduled for the Hana Community Center Monday, the Lahaina Civic Center on Wednesday and the Lanai Senior Center on Friday, all starting at 6 p.m.

A hui hou.

* Gladys C. Baisa holds the council seat for the Upcountry residency area. She is the chair of the Water Resources Committee. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Visit mauicounty.us for more information.