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Mandatory water cutbacks ordered for Central Maui

Order takes effect Sunday with four wells out of commission

Four Department of Water Supply wells in Wailuku and Waihee — with the capacity to produce a quarter of Central Maui’s demand — are out of commission, prompting the water director to call for mandatory water cutbacks for users in the area beginning Sunday.

A Stage 1 water shortage has been declared with calls for voluntary water cutbacks by customers in the Central Maui system in Kahului, Wailuku and Paia. On Sunday, a 10 percent mandatory cutback goes into place, a county news release said Monday.

“We ask everyone to voluntarily conserve water immediately, with mandatory cutbacks beginning after a week’s public notice,” said water Director Jeffrey Pearson.

With four pumps out of service, the department’s capacity to deliver water is down by as much as 6 million gallons per day, Pearson said. Water demand for the Wailuku-Kahului-Paia system averages about 24 mgd.

The water department is increasing production at other wells and at the Iao Water Treatment Plant to offset the loss of supply from the four wells. Pearson said in a phone interview that the Waikapu well, which is pumping eight to 10 hours a day, could be bumped up to 12 to 24 hours a day, and if the Wailuku River is flowing, the department could process another 1 mgd.

“We always try to alter pumping,” Pearson said, but with four wells down “it’s serious.”

One well in Waihee was down undergoing regularly scheduled pump/motor maintenance when there was a cascade of well failures — one in Waihee and two in Wailuku.

The last failure, Wailuku Well No. 2, occurred over the weekend. “This recent failure reduced our water production by an additional 2 million gallons per day, which is significant when combined with three other wells being out of service,” he said in the news release.

Pearson noted that three pumps failed before the end of their expected lifespans. For example, Wailuku Well No. 1’s pump was 8 years old but had a running life of 10 to 12 years.

Pearson did not know why the pumps failed, but added that it was “bad luck” and timing. Electrical surges were mentioned as a possible cause but he noted that the systems have surge protectors.

The water director said he hopes to get two of the four wells back in service by the end of May.

At that point, when the pumps are up and running, Pearson said he will have a better idea on whether mandatory restrictions can be lifted or reduced to voluntary restrictions.

Repairing pumps take time, Pearson explained. In addition to the procurement process, the pumps and motors have to be pulled out of the ground, 300 to 800 feet, and there are only a couple of companies that do this kind of work.

“The department appreciates our customers’ support during these emergency conditions,” he said.

Pearson declared a Stage 1 water shortage, which means anticipated water demand in an area is projected to exceed available supply by 1 to 15 percent. A seven-day notice has to be issued before a mandatory cutback can be ordered, said county spokesman Brian Perry.

When a water shortage is declared, the director may prohibit water use during certain hours or days of the week; water use for irrigation, lawns, personal washing of vehicles or other nonessential activities; prohibit the use of temporary construction meters and institute water shortage water rates.

A violation of the mandatory water use reductions could lead to a $500 fine per violation and the removal of the meter.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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