Department plans on hold over water case — Taylor

WAILUKU – Maui County Water Supply Director Dave Taylor said that the pending Na Wai Eha Central Maui water case and a separate consent decree over new wells in East Maui are hindering the department’s efforts to draw more surface water into the Central Maui system and to develop wells in East Maui.

Taylor told the Maui County Council’s Water Resources Committee on Wednesday that the Na Wai Eha contested case hearings, set to begin March 10 in the state water commission, and a consent decree arising from challenges to East Maui water development studies that go back decades are the reasons why some of the department’s future plans are on hold.

In an interview after the meeting, Taylor emphasized that he was not making excuses for the lack of progress but wanted council members and the public to know why projects and water system projections remain speculative at this point. Taylor added that he is tentatively scheduled to make a presentation to the council in March about the department’s current status and future plans.

The uncertainty of the contested case involving Na Wai Eha, the four great streams of Central Maui – Waihee, Waiehu, Iao and Waikapu streams – involve establishing stream-flow standards.

The outcome of the case will impact the department’s ability to draw more water from Iao Stream, Taylor said. Currently, the county runs 1.7 million to 1.8 million gallons per day from the Iao Stream through its water treatment plant for consumption by residents.

The county has asked the state water commission to be able to draw up to 3.2 mgd. But the county will have to await the outcome of the Na Wai Eha case, which will determine flow standards for all four of the streams, he said.

The case, which spans back to 2004, involves a dispute over mauka diversions of the surface water of Na Wai Eha. Currently, surface water is diverted from the four West Maui Mountains streams for Central Maui sugar cultivation and domestic use. Native Hawaiian and environmental groups are seeking to have more water returned to the streams to revive the natural habitat and to allow for taro cultivation.

The Maui Department of Water Supply, Wailuku Water Co., Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hui of Na Wai Eha and Maui Tomorrow Foundation all have standing in the matter.

In 2010, the state water commission ruled that HC&S and Wailuku Water had to restore 12.5 mgd to the Waihee, North Waiehu and South Waiehu streams in Central Maui. The amount of water was about a third of the 34.5 mgd the commission’s hearings officer recommended for restoration to the streams.

The Hawaii Supreme Court in August 2012 vacated the state water commission ruling and remanded the case back to the commission “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The justices ruled that members of the commission erred in their 2010 ruling by not properly considering the effect of their decision on Native Hawaiian practices, by insufficiently analyzing stream uses by flora and fauna and by not adequately considering alternative water sources.

On Wednesday, council committee members reviewed a letter from the state water commission on the upcoming Na Wai Eha contested case hearings, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday from March 10 to 28.

The dates and locations follow: March 10, 12, 14, 17, 20-21, 24 and 27-28 at the Kahului Community Center; March 11, 13, 18 and 25 at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku; and March 19 at the Waikapu Community Center.

A consent degree involving East Maui water development creates another set of hurdles requiring studies and compliance with specific requirements that may take a lot of time and money, Taylor noted.

In 1993, there was a legal challenge to an environmental impact statement for the East Maui Water Development Plan. Another challenge was lodged to a supplemental environmental impact statement for the plan in 2003, said Deputy Corporation Counsel Jennifer Oana. As a result of these challenges, both sides agreed to a consent decree that outlines specific steps the water department has to follow before it can develop more water sources in East Maui.

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