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Maui water use plan likely pushed back again

Community wants revisions; deadline isn’t a problem

The Maui County Council is mulling whether to again push back the adoption deadline for the Maui Island Water Use Development Plan, a blueprint for protection, management and water use over a 20-year period.

Members of the council’s Agriculture and Public Trust Committee indicated during their meeting Tuesday that they will likely postpone the deadline until September or longer. The council voted last November to extend the deadline from Dec. 31 to June 30.

Committee Chairman Shane Sinenci said council members and the community want several updates to the plan, and funding is not available to contract out the job. Instead, Office of Council Services staff has agreed to do the work in-house.

“Keeping in mind that our June 30 deadline will come up fairly quickly with the budget session beginning in late March, my preferred method would be to utilize skills of our OCS staff,” Sinenci said. “Additionally, I would like to consider extending our deadline a little bit to provide them time to get our revisions made without drawing the process out too much longer.”

Drafted by county Department of Water Supply staff, the dense, 1,200-page document would help guide management and use of the island’s water resources from 2015 to 2035.

However, community testimony last year called for more public engagement, saying the document is too complex, Native Hawaiian cultural issues have not thoroughly been addressed and data is outdated or missing.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from members and from the community to update the current plan in addition to any other revisions we decide to include from the various groups and community stakeholders,” Sinenci said.

Sinenci during the meeting outlined the work that OCS would do, including folding the addendum into the main document, along with completing any new revisions. Moving the addendum — which comprises many graphs and charts — into the water plan is necessary because “community members felt it was important to have updated, sufficient data upfront.”

The council staff would draw from the county’s Water Department as a resource when making the updates.

While council members voiced support for the extension, Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who has worked on the water plan during her time on the council’s Water, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, said changes to the plan will restart the review process.

“When you change the document, it goes back before the Board of Water Supply,” she said. “If we’re going to have this process, we might want to review this and take it even further once we figure out all the steps we need to go back and start all over.”

“It sounds like you may have to extend it further past two months, maybe even the rest of the term, depends on what’s involved,” Sugimura added.

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.

Jeremy Kimura, a CWRM staff member who presented information on county water use and development plans for Tuesday’s meeting, said there are no firm deadlines for the county when it comes to submitting a plan.

“Whenever you guys are comfortable with the document and it meets your needs then submit it to us,” he said. “We definitely don’t want something premature coming to us that you at the county aren’t comfortable with.”

However, Neal Fujii, also of CWRM, urged the county to complete the document as soon as possible.

“I believe it will benefit the island of Maui to have an updated and current water use and development plan that can be used along with the land use plans to make sure Maui has a sustainable water future — I think that’s what everyone wants,” he said during the meeting.

“There seems to be a lot of community interest as well,” Fujii added. “We don’t have any deadlines but we urge you to get it done as soon as you can.”

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 Water 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.

Hosted online by BlueJeans and broadcast by Akaku, the council’s Agriculture and Public Trust Committee meeting Tuesday ended prematurely due to apparent technical issues. Council legal staff will be looking into what caused the broadcast to cut out.

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

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