State alleges company violated stream-flow levels
Wailuku Water points to extreme drought, no provision for low flows
Wailuku Water Co., which owns a water delivery system used for Maui County drinking water, was given notice recently for failing to meet state standards for in-stream flows on three Na Wai ‘Eha waterways in the West Maui Mountains.
The state Commission on Water Resource Management’s Oct. 21 notice said the company’s diversions this year were below interim in-stream flow standards for 61 days for Wailuku River, 28 days for Waikapu Stream and 37 days for Waihee River.
Avery Chumbley, Wailuku Water Co. president, said Wednesday the problem is “extreme drought” and that the stream-flow standards, set in 2014 through a mediated settlement, do not account for low flows due to lack of rain.
Wailuku Water Co. owns the watershed and 120-year-old water delivery system, initially developed to irrigate sugar fields from Waihee to Maalaea. The Wailuku and Waihee rivers and Waikapu and Waiehu streams, which make up Na Wai ‘Eha (Four Great Waters), are regulated by state stream-flow standards meant to protect ecosystems, cultural practices and connectivity from mauka to makai. The system also provides about 70 percent of drinking water for Maui.
“There is nothing in these mediated agreements that deals with extreme drought and a balance between off-stream users and in-stream uses,” Chumbley said. “All of the activists and community groups talk about wanting balance with mauka-to-makai flows, but you can’t leave in extreme drought situations the users with nothing and let whatever small amount in the stream to continue to run to the ocean.
“There has to be some sharing there.”
While Wailuku River has provisions for low flows below 10 million gallons a day, Chumbley said flows are not sufficient to meet a balanced usage of both off- and in-stream uses during extreme drought.
“A lot of people are getting zero water right now, including kuleana users, loi farmers, diversified agriculture and cattle ranchers,” he said. “And Department of Water Supply is getting less than what they need.”
However, Hokuao Pellegrino, president of Hui o Na Wai ‘Eha, which advocates for protection of the four waterways, said that while drought conditions are severe and some flows may be at historic lows, Wailuku Water Co. has not complied with stream-flow standards for some time.
“Even in normal conditions, he’s not meeting IIFS (in-stream flow standards),” Pellegrino said.
Dates of alleged violations include January, February, March and other months that are outside of the island’s current drought period that began in mid-August, according to the commission.
The commission Wednesday acknowledged that the drought has progressed from moderate to extreme. Still, if the average flow for any day falls below 10 mgd in the Wailuku River, commencing the next day and continuing until the average daily flow returns to at least 10 mgd, only 3.4 mgd may be diverted for non-in-stream use.
“The intent is to provide adequate water to accommodate Maui Department of Water Supply’s requested need of 3.2 mgd for its ‘Iao Surface Water Treatment Plant, as well as an estimated 0.2 mgd for use by kuleana users served exclusively by the ‘Iao-Waikapu Ditch,” the commission said.
County Water Supply Director Jeffrey Pearson said Wednesday that the department is not “in dire straits” because it can rely on wells in Iao and Waihee aquifers. The county has recently reduced its take from the Wailuku River to the range of 1.5 to 1.7 mgd.
“If I didn’t have the wells to make up for this loss due to drought, I would be screaming louder,” Pearson said.
The commission said that the drought conditions were “anticipated by parties involved in the 2014 mediated agreement,” but climate change will increase the severity and occurrence of these conditions.
The latest readings on the Wailuku River at U.S. Geological Survey Gage 16604500 show a discharge of 7.24 mgd, while the lower USGS Gage 16605500 has a reading of 4.91 mgd, the commission said Wednesday.
The rain gauge at Puu Kukui, one of the wettest places in the world in the heart of the West Maui Mountains, collected only 60 percent of normal rainfall through September.
Pellegrino said he’s most concerned that Wailuku Water Co. is “cutting off” about a dozen kuleana users on the three waterways and prioritizing some users over others.
“The streams are not flowing at what they should be, and it’s impacting everyone,” he said. “But you cannot cut off the kuleanas. He’s telling everyone, ‘Oh, I have to put all the water back in the stream’ — the stream and the kuleanas go hand in hand.”
Chumbley said that the solution lies in the hands of the commission and state government.
“The governor has the ability under emergency declaration to suspend rules of administrative actions,” he said. “So if the commission wanted to, they could go to the governor and say they recommend suspending the IIFS until such time that the stream flows have come back up so there could be a shared, balanced use of whatever water is left in the stream.”
Aaron Strauch, commission hydrologist, said Wednesday that Wailuku River has stream-flow standards with a drought scenario, and “it is working.”
“The county is getting some water and the river is flowing mauka to makai,” he said.
The other streams don’t have drought provisions. Waikapu Stream currently doesn’t have enough natural flow to meet the stream flow standards, and “there are kuleana users that want water,” Strauch said.
The ditches and auwai that support the farmers and kuleana users from Waihee River were not designed to transport low flows efficiently, he added.
* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.