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Mayor says county intends to use water for housing projects

Decision over Na Wai ‘Eha streamflow gave county new use permit

Raw water from the Iao-Waikapu Ditch flows inside pipes within the new Iao Water Treatment Plant following its blessing in April 2019. The plant has an average daily capacity of 3.2 million gallons per day. MAUI COUNTY photo

Mayor Michael Victorino announced Tuesday that the county intendeds to use Na Wai ‘Eha water that was recently permitted by the state for 100 percent affordable housing projects.

“I am prioritizing our resident workforce as the first beneficiaries of this water,” Victorino said during the county news conference Tuesday afternoon.

The mayor said the allocation will be an incentive for developers to build the kind of housing that’s needed on Maui.

Spurred by a high amount of luxury home sales, Maui County’s median sales price for single-family homes breached $1 million for the first time last month. The county for some time has been looking at ways to curb the housing crisis, where inventory is low and rents and purchase prices are some of the highest in the state.

In a milestone decision for Na Wai ‘Eha last week, the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management approved the County of Maui’s existing use permit for 1.78 million gallons of water per day, plus ratified a new use permit for nearly 1.42 mgd, for a total of about 3.2 mgd.

Victorino said in the announcement that the 1.42 mgd will be used for affordable housing.

Questions remain, though, over whether the water will actually be available and whether that amount has already been in use by the county for other needs.

The $21.7 million Iao Water Treatment Plant, which receives water from the Iao-Waikapu ditch, has an average daily capacity of 3.2 mgd.

The county’s July 2020 report showed use of 2.77 mgd at the plant, according to Lucienne de Naie, Sierra Club Maui chairwoman and Hui O Na Wai ‘Eha secretary, who offered a personal response to the mayor’s plan in an unofficial capacity.

“Does the county already use most of the full 3.2 mgd during times of low rainfall and high demand?” she asked. “It is not clear if the full 1.416 mgd the mayor is intending to ‘allot’ is actually going to be ‘available.’ “

After the news conference Tuesday, county Managing Director Sandy Baz said that the county has identified a number of affordable rental and attainable housing projects that would benefit from this type of allocation.

Baz noted many affordable housing projects that are in the planning or pre-planning stages, such as the 90-unit Hale O Pi’ikea project in Kihei and the 178-unit Hale Pilina project in Kahului, two 100 percent affordable rental projects that have gained several entitlements and approvals.

Maui County Code exempts 100 percent affordable projects from certain water supply requirements and recommends that available water supply be prioritized for affordable projects.

“Even though (affordable housing projects) are exempt from the law that says that you have to prove you have water available to build, they still have to have actual water to develop projects,” Baz said. “The water needs to be available, and we can’t get them water if it’s not available.”

In the most comprehensive application of the Hawaii Water Code to water use and protection in history, the state commission’s lengthy decision and order issued last week on Na Wai ‘Eha water use also officially recognizes appurtenant rights, including kalo farming and other traditional and customary practices.

Na Wai ‘Eha — or the “Four Great Waters” of Waihee River, Waiehu Stream, Wailuku River and Waikapu Stream — provides about 70 percent of county drinking water to Maui residents.

The decision impacts more than 150 different applications to use water, including small farmers and area landowners, to larger groups, such as the County of Maui and Mahi Pono.

In all, 1,000 determinations resulted in 116 recognized appurtenant rights and 176 permits.

De Naie said that mayor’s plan to designate some of the county’s permitted Na Wai ‘Eha water for affordable housing could be coupled with a campaign to reduce nonpotable use, such as landscape irrigation, in South Maui over the next five years to allow more water for 100 percent affordable developments.

“Honolulu has consistently reduced their potable water demand over the last 15 years, even as population has grown,” she said. “Maui needs to be no ka oi and lead the way in this sensible planning strategy.”

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

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