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County Council sends water plan back to committee

Community should have more time for input, members say

The Maui County Council voted unanimously Friday to send back to committee the Maui Island Water Use Development Plan, a dense blueprint for protection, management and use of water over a 20-year period.

Saying the document is extremely technical, Council Member Mike Molina said he would like to see changes that make it accessible for laypeople.

“It’s a difficult document to read,” he said. “You have to be a hydrologist or have some form of formal education.”

Molina, whose residency seat covers Makawao, Haiku and Paia, said his community continues to have questions about water distribution.

Council members agreed Friday that community members should have more time to understand the proposal and weigh in.

About a dozen people testified during Friday’s council meeting, with the majority seeking plan amendments including updated data and greater Native Hawaiian water rights considerations.

Kanoelani Steward of Lahaina pointed to a Lahaina table for lo’i kalo that she said reflects the same demand across many years.

“It basically says there will be no increase in lo’i kalo, therefore there is no additional water projected to be used by this area,” she said. “Maybe something should be changed in there. If we are expecting our agricultural demands to increase, I would also hope we could expect our kalo demands to increase.”

Dick Mayer of Kula said that he wants to see a “much better discussion” for possible public management of the East Maui Irrigation and Wailuku Water Co. systems, both of which divert from key watersheds. He also highlighted climate change concerns.

“They should consider that Maui’s precious water supply may be evaporated due to higher temperatures,” he said. “What impacts will it have if an extra 10 or 20 percent is evaporated?”

Others, such as Dean Frampton of Pukalani, said the plan is “long overdue” and has already been thoroughly vetted by the community.

Frampton, who serves on the Board of Water Supply, said the document does not imply approval and any future development would have to undergo an extensive review process.

“Just like the community plan, it may recommend a property be designated for residential use, but that doesn’t mean they can go through without proper approvals,” he said.

Tiare Lawrence of Pukalani said she had attended community meetings years ago and that the plan has been years in the making.

“Going back to the drawing board again is too much to ask at this time,” she said.

Drafted by county Department of Water Supply staff, the plan provides a 20-year blueprint to help guide management and use of the island’s water resources from 2015 to 2035.

A Maui County plan was adopted in 1990. Now, each island’s plan is being updated, with Lanai’s completed, Maui’s under council review and Molokai’s to follow.

In 2015, the department began meetings to develop the plan with various community groups, including Aha Moku O Maui, the Agricultural Working Group and Kula/Honua’ula Moku. Since 2016, the Board of Water Supply has held public meetings and workshops on the plan.

State and county law requires each county to prepare and periodically update water use and development plans as components of the State of Hawaii Water Plan. After approval by the council, the plan will be sent to the state Commission on Water Resource Management for final approval.

With Friday’s vote, the council recommitted the plan to the Water, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, which unanimously recommended adoption of the plan back in August.

The topic was also referred to the council’s Environmental, Agricultural and Cultural Preservation Committee so Native Hawaiian issues can be further addressed.

Pointing to the volume of testimony at recent meetings, council Chairwoman Alice Lee said further public discussion must be had.

“There isn’t enough support to move this forward at this time,” she said.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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