Official: Damage to water system was ‘relatively small’

WAILUKU — Heavy rains and flooding in September caused no more than an estimated $1 million in damage to  Maui County’s water system, and about 3 million gallons of water per day continues to be lost as crews continue repairs.

In all, Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor said on Wednesday that his department’s storm-related damage totals are “relatively small” compared with other departments, which sustained millions of dollars in flood damage.

“This is a manageable event for us,” Taylor told the Maui County Council’s Water Resources Committee. “We don’t anticipate any long-term problems.”

He said he anticipates repair work to be done by the end of this month or by early next month. That work would cap the 3 million gallon a day loss of water.

Taylor updated committee members following the Sept. 13 heavy rains and runoff overflow from the raging Wailuku River, which pounded Iao Valley State Monument, the county’s Kepaniwai Park and homes in Iao Valley. In total, it is estimated the torrential rains caused at least $15 million in damage to public property and facilities.

The storm washed away a 250-foot, county-owned pipeline that was connected to a ground-water tunnel owned by Wailuku Water Co. in Kepaniwai, Taylor said. Also, the county’s ultraviolet system to disinfect water was destroyed.

With the 12-inch diameter pipe broken, Taylor said the water system loses around 1.5 million gallons of water daily. Repair crews continued working, but Taylor noted that the work was taking time because of access issues. If the infrastructure were located on the side of the road, it would only take the county about a week to fix, but because it is in a riverbed it is taking longer. Helicopters are being used.

“It’s not difficult work, just difficult to access,” he said.

As for the disinfection system, Taylor said outside the meeting that a temporary system will be put in place with a permanent one installed later.

The other 1.5 million gallons of water a day lost stems from Wailuku Water’s diversion, which is undergoing repairs. The diversion feeds the Iao surface water treatment plant at the fork that divides Iao Valley Road and West Alu Road.

Once the diversion is back online, the county will receive the water again, Taylor said.

Outside of the meeting, Wailuku Water President Avery Chumbley said the company is expecting the diversion to be back online before the end of this month.

Taylor said the department has about $100 million budgeted for its capital improvement project and operating costs.

The cost of the storm damage work is what could be normally expected for repairs in a year, he said.

During the meeting, Taylor told committee members that during last month’s storm, Wailuku River was flowing at around 3 billion gallons per day, roughly 30 times the normal flow, with the river normally flowing around 100 million to 150 million gallons per day.

He added that the river is two to three times wider and had washed out land, trees and other debris along the river’s banks.

With the loss of the 3 million gallons per day, the water department continues to request that Central and South Maui customers continue to conserve water.

Outside the meeting, Taylor said the county system has not been impacted because there has been rain in Central Maui. But, if weather conditions become dry, then the daily loss of 3 million gallons could be felt, he said.

The under $1 million damage estimate includes the work that was done at the Lahaina water treatment plant that had been clogged with storm debris. Taylor estimated the work in Lahaina cost up to around $100,000 because of the heavy equipment needed. A request to conserve water in West Maui was lifted Sept. 29 after repair work was completed to the Lahaina surface water intake system.

Immediately after the storm, the water department issued boil-water notices for two days in Central and South Maui as a precaution against possibly contaminated surface water. Ultimately, tested water met all federal and state standards.

Some members of the public and large entities “couldn’t handle” that they had to boil their water, Taylor said.

“A two-day boil notice should not be a crisis in the middle of a hurricane season,” he said.

Taylor stressed that the public needs to be prepared for emergencies with five days’ worth of food and water and be prepared to go without electricity, especially during hurricane season.

Taylor added that one thing the department struggled with was getting the word out about boil-water and water-conservation notices.

People no longer depend on getting their information from radio and The Maui News, he said. The department put out news releases to various media as well as notices on its website and answered phone calls.

The department is working with Civil Defense on ways to remedy the problem, he said.

In response to questions about long-term plans for the water system in Central Maui, Taylor said the county is still “in that emergency-response mode.”

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