WAILUKU - By implementing strict conservation measures and building pipelines to make use of recycled wastewater, the county could put off the need to develop new water sources for Central Maui until 2019, according to a plan for future water development.
The county's draft Water Use and Development Plan for the central district also finds that the acquisition of Na Wai Eha stream water may be the most cost-effective new long-term source for the area, but that its price and availability remain highly uncertain. The plan also finds that desalination of brackish water - an idea once floated by Mayor-elect Alan Arakawa during his previous term in office - is currently "more expensive than other options."
A bill to adopt the plan is scheduled to come before the Maui County Council for first reading at 9 a.m. Friday. The council Water Resources Committee voted 4-0 last month to recommend accepting the document.
In addition to making recommendations for the county's future water strategies in Central Maui, the plan includes data and forecasts on water availability, demands and costs.
County Wastewater Division Chief Dave Taylor, who worked on the plan's review of recycled water options, and whom Arakawa has appointed to take over the Department of Water Supply next year, called the plan and its recommendations "a menu of what's possible."
"Ultimately it's going to come down to the elected officials to decide what we're going to do and how we're going to pay for it," he said. "Clearly, if the recycled water options are a better bang for the buck to the elected officials, that's what should be pursued."
Maui County Council Member Mike Victorino, who chairs the council's Water Resources Committee, said he hoped the council would ultimately implement the plan and provide funding for the infrastructure it recommends.
"I think the public is demanding that, and we all want to move toward that direction," he said. "Nothing's going to happen overnight, but I think we have to start walking."
Maui County and the other counties of Hawaii were ordered by the state Commission on Water Resource Management more than a decade ago to prepare comprehensive plans on how they would meet potable water demands for the next 20 years.
The Central Maui section is the first part of the overall plan to move forward. Additional sections covering water plans for West Maui, Upcountry, East Maui, Molokai and Lanai are still being drafted and reviewed.
Once all the sections making up the county's Water Use and Development Plan are approved, they will be sent to the Commission on Water Resource Management to be incorporated into a statewide water plan.
Outgoing county Water Director Jeff Eng said the Central Maui plan reflected the "serious effort and complex analysis" that goes into developing major new water sources.
"The good news (is) that conservation and water recycling are the most cost-effective, desirable and popular measures to meet immediate water needs for the central district," he said in an e-mail. "These measures cannot meet all of the needs in the 20-year time frame, but can defer the need for major projects until about 2018 and allow the county to explore other long-term strategies that are not currently feasible."
The plan notes that if the county taps treated sewage and wastewater, it could free up additional potable water that is now used for landscaping and irrigation.
The county currently provides as much as 1.75 million gallons of recycled water per day to various users, and has an additional 1.65 million gallons per day still available.
"It has the same water supply end result as drilling a new well," Taylor said.
But accessing the recycled water would not be without cost. The county would need to build additional pipelines in order to carry the recycled water from sewage treatment plants to the properties where it could be used.
The county currently has seven reclaimed-waterline projects under construction or in the final stages of design. Those combined would free up just under 600,000 gallons of potable water per day, at a total price tag of about $2.6 million, according to a 2009 report.
Another project would provide a dedicated reclaimed waterline to the under-construction South Maui police station, providing 16,500 gallons of water per day at a cost of $275,000.
The report also detailed seven other infrastructure projects seen as options for putting the remaining supply of reclaimed water into use. The projects come with varying price-tags ranging from $1.1 million to $21.1 million.
Other short-term recommendations in the draft Central Maui water system plan include:
* Maximize production from existing water sources, including pumping the Waihee aquifer up to the sustainable yield.
* Provide money and staffing to increase the department's leak detection and repair program.
* Look at options for conservation, including restrictions on landscape irrigation scheduling.
Long term, the plan recommends the county continue to monitor state proceedings to determine the allocation of Na Wai Eha stream water in Central Maui. It also advises the county continue with negotiations and planning for the development of a Waiale water treatment plant by private entities, even though the source of water to supply the plant is not yet certain.
The county also could look at developing new groundwater wells in the northern half of the Waihee aquifer and into the Kahakuloa aquifer, but the cost and effectiveness of such a project are still uncertain, with more study needed of the hydrology of the area, the plan says.
Among other long-term options that could be considered, developing water transmission lines to the Haiku aquifer would be "more expensive than other options," and transmission lines to the Honopou or Waikamoi aquifers would be "prohibitively expensive," it says.
Desalination of brackish water also would be a more expensive option, it says.
The plan also recommends that the county maintain and possibly expand the current "progressive" water rate structure, which charges higher rates for customers who use the largest volume of water, it says.
The Central Maui plan, along with other draft chapters of the countywide Water Use and Development Plan, can be viewed online at www.co.maui.hi.us/index.aspx?NID=767.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.