Infrastructure upgrades help meet Upcountry’s growing water needs

Our County

Upcountry water infrastructure improvements are, without a doubt, the most asked about aspect of our activities. They are also the most difficult to explain because there are so many components, each with its own set of obstacles.

The Upcountry water system alone includes three treatment plants, four well sites, five reservoirs, hundreds of miles of pipeline and dozens of water tanks, booster pumps and valves.  

The whole system has to operate in unison to deliver water to any single customer. Just as the weakest link of a chain limits the overall strength, the weakest link of a water system determines its capacity.

Approximately 80 percent of the water for Upcountry residents comes from streams. Most of the year, these streams provide enough water. When rainfall is low, we don’t have enough water (which is, unfortunately, precisely when people want to use more).

What’s more, the Upcountry area spans a very large and diverse geographical area, extending from the eastern portions of Haiku all the way to the upper parts of Kula and out to Ulupalakua. Some areas can be soaking wet while others are bone dry.

We tend to receive enough water, on average, for the year. However, the challenge we face is balancing wet and dry periods and moving water from where we have it to where we need it.

So on any given day, the “weakest link” is a little different. Over the past six and a half years of this administration, we have invested tens of millions of dollars in Upcountry water infrastructure improvements targeted at these weakest links. Here are just a few:

• We completely replaced the Waikamoi flume serving the Olinda treatment plant. This milelong transmission system was leaking enormous amounts of water; now, all of that water is captured and delivered to our system.  

Two Waikamoi reservoirs, 15 million gallons each, were cleaned of silt and relined. There is now more storage volume and no leakage further increasing flow to the Olinda treatment plant. At the treatment plant, the onsite storage basin was relined and the filtration units were completely overhauled. These efforts allow more water storage and a greater plant output. While these may seem like normal maintenance, these major overhauls were worth the cost of roughly $15 million, as they have had the same result as building a new well: providing more water when we need it.

• The Piiholo treatment plant was outfitted with a new, $4 million, granular-activated carbon treatment system. Along with an aeration treatment system located nearby in the distribution system, we can now meet stricter water quality requirements recently imposed. While this did not increase our capacity, not doing it would have decreased our capacity as we would be limited as to when we could use the water. Although they rarely makes headlines, these types of system upgrades are ongoing and absolutely necessary to keep our capacity from diminishing. This plant was overhauled as well allowing a larger output when water is available.

• The Kamole treatment plant also underwent major maintenance upgrades to maximize output. In conjunction with a new pumping system at a cost of approximately $2 million, this plant can now deliver large quantities of water to higher elevations.

• We worked with the County Council to initiate utilization of the previously nonfunctional Hamakuapoko well system. This system has been completely rehabilitated and brought online, adding a valuable source. We have also increased pumping and storage capacity throughout the system with various mechanical, electrical and structural improvements.

These are only some of the improvements at the Upcountry treatment plants. As with any effort, progress is limited by financial resources and other constraints. All water system improvements are paid for by our customers. Trying to accomplish more is always balanced with keeping water rates affordable.  

The good news is that the capacity of the Upcountry system has never been greater than it is today, which is why we have been able to start the process of issuing meters and anticipate being able to continue issuing meters as we continue to make additional improvements across the county in our other water systems.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month. This week’s column was written by David Taylor, director of the Department of Water Supply.