Passage of holdover water use permits bill vital for Upcountry

Recent debate about pending state legislation has focused on whether Maui County would have enough surface water for its Upcountry water system if East Maui Irrigation Co. were not allowed to continue providing East Maui stream water for domestic and agricultural use.

To be clear, EMI needs holdover state permits for it to capture water in its Wailoa Ditch, and Maui County needs that water to effectively and efficiently operate its integrated Upcountry water system. It’s important to remember that water is often pumped uphill — especially during times of drought — from the Kamole Water Treatment Facility at the end of Wailoa Ditch to pressurize the connected system.

EMI has partnered with Maui County in meeting Upcountry’s water demand since the 1960s. EMI’s Wailoa Ditch begins as far east as Makapipi Stream and ends at Maliko Gulch. Surface water in it flows to the Kamole facility, located in Haliimaile. It’s one of three water treatment facilities operated by the county Department of Water Supply for its Upcountry system.

Although it’s been reported that Kamole supplies Upcountry 26.9 percent of its domestic water supply, water treated at Kamole also is routinely pumped up to the Piiholo Reservoir to keep water storage as close as possible to its 50 million-gallon capacity. Kamole also is a vital source of water for all of Upcountry in times of drought.

For example, during drought conditions in 2010, our Upcountry water reports of actual water demand by treatment plants show that 48 percent of Upcountry’s water came from Kamole on June 24, 2010; 64 percent on June 27, 2010; and 50 percent on July 14, 2010. Also, during drought on Sept. 7, 2017, 56 percent of Upcountry water came from water that flowed through Kamole.

East Maui streams supply water that is treated at the Kamole, Piiholo and Olinda treatment plants. EMI manages the ditch systems that supply that surface water to all three Upcountry treatment plants for domestic use.

More than 80 percent of Upcountry water comes from streams in the East Maui watershed. Mayor Michael Victorino has been correct in making this statement in testimony on the water permits bill and in his State of the County address. There has been no deception in stating a simple fact. He’s also correct in saying that passage of the state legislation ensures the delivery of water to Upcountry residents and farmers.

Now I’ve learned that if EMI were precluded from accessing and delivering East Maui stream water for use by Mahi Pono’s diversified agriculture crops in Central Maui, it would be difficult for EMI to operate the ditch system solely for the county’s needs.

Without passage of the holdover water use permits bill pending before state lawmakers, water may not be diverted to the Kamole Water Treatment Facility. Without water there, the Department of Water Supply would experience water shortages and have an unreliable delivery of water to Upcountry residents and farmers.

Therefore, the Department of Water Supply is and always has been in full support of House Bill 1326 to allow more time for all revocable permit holders.

* Jeff Pearson is the director of the Maui County Department of Water Supply.