For several years I have been trying to understand why access to public trust waters has continued to be politically unfeasible. And why limiting access to water has become the preferred means of planning throughout Maui County. Rather than meet each design or proposal for subdivision on its own merits in conformance with the General Plan, growth has been guided by whether or not water can be allocated to a particular project. In this process, the county has created for itself tremendous liability, as water scarcity Upcountry for the public is largely a fiction cloaked by the county's continued reluctance to build and maintain adequate infrastructure.
During our August Maui County Board of Water Supply meeting, Director Jeff Eng estimated that it would take about 3 million gallons a day to meet the needs of all those presently on the water meter list for Upcountry. Presently, the Department of Water Supply is withdrawing about 3 to 4 mgd from the Wailoa Ditch at Kamaole Weir. At times this figure can rise to 7 to 8 mgd but the treatment plant itself can process about 9 to 10 mgd. The county's right of withdrawal from the ditch can be as much as 16 mgd.
This would seem to be a guaranteed source of water - though seasonally limited to a small degree - under both the public trust doctrine and the long-standing, though often revised, memorandum of understanding between the county and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar/East Maui Irrigation. And, if as presently configured, Kamaole Weir cannot produce enough water on a consistent basis, then it would make sense to build a better treatment plant next to Kamaole Weir to further increase production for domestic and agricultural use rather than searching for presently uncertain sources of water in East Maui.
Of course, it is basic that the county either builds or somehow acquires greater water storage, hopefully somewhat decentralized, so certain districts would be less at risk with potential system failure. And that the county both reconfigures and rebuilds what is left of the Waikamoi Flume system. These goals are well within our reach.
We hear a constant litany that we need to develop more water resources. That was certainly the recommendation of the Commission on Water Resource Management. However, given the Emplan decree and the Haiku Community Plan, water cannot simply be taken from an already underserved area for use in other parts of the island without a meaningful environmental impact statement and first meeting the needs of these areas in Haiku.
To take another 3 to 4 mgd from the Wailoa Ditch would not substantially harm the commercial agricultural operations of HC&S, given that HC&S takes on average more than 230 mgd from throughout the East Maui watershed. The water is there, though seasonally variable, and there is enough, with real management, to meet the needs of all those on the Upcountry list.
In addition, issuance of new meters, especially residential meters, can be limited relative to amounts of water to be used. Another factor that has not been addressed is water allocation. The county seems prepared to give water to those on the list in the order in which they have applied without any sense of what is otherwise appropriate for the rural nature of most of the Upcountry district. Of the first 75 applicants on the waiting list, 45 are for subdivisions.
I would not care to see the rural quality of Upcountry Maui changed for the worse by unlimited and inappropriate growth, but approval for subdivisions rests with the Department of Public Works and the Planning Department and ultimately with the County Council. These bodies need the courage and foresight to address what is in keeping with the rural character of Upcountry.
* Michael Howden is chairman of the Maui County Board of Water Supply and a resident of Olinda. He is speaking on his own behalf.