Maui County Water Supply Director David Taylor shouldn't expect council members to act on his appeal for a decision on future funding of water infrastructure developments. Certainly, it won't happen in an election year. But County Councils historically have demonstrated an inability to make difficult decisions on funding for growth.
Funding for infrastructure requires balancing costs between current and future users of water. It's an equation fraught with uncertainty since planning for growth is at best making a rough estimate of what the future holds.
It doesn't help that council members, such as Riki Hokama, apparently don't understand how providing water infrastructure fits in with planning for growth. That's apparent in his comment reported in a story July 4: "Why shouldn't growth be based on what we can provide through water infrastructure? Why do the reverse and say we want to hit 200,000, so what does it take to make 200,000 people fit on this island?"
The county General Plan and still-to-come regional community plans determine what level of growth the county anticipates - presumably for the next 20 years. Council members are now tinkering with the Maui Island Plan, the second major element of the General Plan process, that establishes urban growth boundaries - defining the areas in which urban (i.e., most population) growth will occur. Those boundaries presumably have the effect of setting an upper limit on how much growth can occur.
But that is meaningless.
What is actually developed on the ground depends on economic factors that are mostly out of the county's control. Presumptions of population growth are based more on historic growth rates than on what might be allowed by the planning process.
That is, county plans establish what's possible. Population projections establish what's probable. Reality is what happens to the U.S. economy and the extent to which capital will flow to development on Maui.
A major problem with Hokama's attitude is the presumption that water infrastructure can serve to regulate the rate of growth. That presumption poses a threat to current residents, exemplified by the situation in Kula, where availability of water serves as a limiting factor on growth except for those able to pay more.
Hokama's home island of Lanai provides an even better illustration of how limited water resources can affect values, but since the water system on Lanai is outside public control, it's not comparable to the situation on Maui.
Capping the amount of water available, as a means of reducing long-term costs, creates scarcity of a necessary resource.
Scarcity will require the public water system to find ways to allocate use of water. In any economic model, allocation of a scarce resource involves pricing mechanisms that charge more as demand increases. Limiting water resources by failing to develop new public sources and infrastructure for anticipated growth will have the effect of driving up the price of water for all users. Those who can afford more will claim more of an allocation than those who are not wealthy. At the same time, a public water system cannot discriminate on access to water based on factors such as wealth, or whether a landowner is a kamaaina family or a malihini with a healthy bank account.
The water meter fees cited by Taylor in his presentation to the Water Resources Committee are the charges for Water System Development - a fund set up to have future users pay for development of sources, water tanks and pipelines needed to accommodate growth. If the fund is inadequate for expanding water infrastructure - as Taylor says it is - the other option is to pay for those improvements by borrowing and covering the payback with higher rates on existing customers.
The County Council has authority to decide how to balance those payments to provide adequate funding for the infrastructure needed to accommodate growth. It has consistently failed to do so.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at email@example.com. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.