Upcountry using less water

Average daily draw drops by 1 million gallons as conservation effort begins

Upcountry water users are using slightly less water several days after the county Department of Water Supply issued a directive calling for voluntary conservation due to recent low rainfall in a watershed.

Water Director Dave Taylor said Thursday that it’s too early to tell how the conservation effort will go but said that “it looks like a lot of people are trying to help.”

Upcountry water usage usually runs around 7 million gallons a day, but from April 6 to Wednesday the draw has been averaging 6 mgd, he said. Taylor added that usage did hit 7 mgd April 7 and Sunday, when the conservation call officially began.

The voluntary conservation is part of the stage 1 water shortage declaration for customers in Haiku, Makawao, Pukalani, Olinda, Kula and Ulupalakua. This stage does include increased rates. The declaration was approved by Mayor Alan Arakawa last week.

In announcing the conservation measures last week, Taylor said the problem is that no water is coming in around the Piiholo Treatment Facility at the 3,000-foot elevation of the Makawao Forest Reserve. It rained in the watershed last week, which helped but was not enough to resolve the drought situation, he said.

It has been difficult for the department to communicate to customers that it doesn’t matter to the drought declaration if it rains in other parts of the island but not in the watershed, he said.

The water director may call a stage 1 water shortage if the anticipated water demand in the area is projected to exceed available water supply by up to 15 percent. Due to reduced surface water flow and lack of rain, Upcountry conditions fall within that band, Taylor said.

The department’s website Thursday morning showed that on Monday (the latest data available) the Waikamoi Reservoir was empty. Taylor said there is no real alarm regarding the two 15-million-gallon reservoirs being empty; they do run empty at times.

The Piiholo Reservoir fared better at 22.8 million gallons, or 45.6 percent of capacity.

The two 50-million-gallon Kahakapao reservoirs each contained 39 million gallons, or around 78 percent of capacity. No data were available from the Wailoa Ditch, part of the East Maui Irrigation system from which the county draws.

The water department put out an advisory earlier this month saying that water from the ditch has been flowing slower and at lower volumes due to the closure of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., which may affect taste and smell of the water.

The water department assured customers that the water is safe to drink and meets health standards. Ongoing testing continues to show the absence of harmful bacteria and other pathogens in the water, and the department will continue to monitor and test the water.

If customers can conserve and help get through the drought, there will be no need to move to stage 2, which could initiate increased rates, Taylor has said. He added that as long as there is enough water in other sources to make up for the drought in the Piiholo area, “we will be OK.”

As Taylor deals with drought issues Upcountry, his department is seeking an increase in water rates, which will amount to 3.7 percent for single-family users. The Maui County Council’s Budget and Finance Committee is currently mulling over Arakawa’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget, which includes the rate hikes. Council members have until June 10 to take final action on the budget, which takes effect July 1.

For an average customer who uses 15,000 gallons per month, the bill will go from $67.25 to $69.75 per month. Included in the bill is the water meter service charge for a 5/8th-inch meter, which will rise from the current $19.25 to $20.25 per month.

Water rates from 0 to 5,000 gallons of usage will remain the same at $2 per 1,000 gallons. But rates for 5,001 to 15,000 gallons will increase from $3.80 per 1,000 gallons to $3.95.

There also are similar percentage rate increases for water shortage rates, agriculture water rates and meter installations.

The proposed increases are tied to increased operational costs and the need to replace existing infrastructure, Taylor said. The increases are not tied to any single project or water situation but can help with maintenance and with backup systems during times of droughts or other emergencies.

For the last five to six years, Taylor said, the department has been doing long-term projections and predicted a gradual increase in rates each year for the next several years. Instead of proposing a large rate increase for one year, the department has decided to do smaller increases over several years.

The council approved an increase for water bills last year.

The proposed county rates and fees may be found at www.mauicounty.gov/DocumentCenter/View/107618.

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