WAILUKU - A Maui County Council committee has advanced a bill that would ban new applicants from joining the longstanding waiting list for water meters in Upcountry.
The Water Resources Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend the bill to the full council.
The proposal is one of three key measures the county's Department of Water Supply has put forward to eliminate the list over the next two to three years.
The water department last month presented an overview plan to council members that called for maximizing the use of surface water in Upcountry while implementing conservation incentives to meet the demands of those on the existing list.
The list, which dates back to 1994, included close to 1,500 applicants as of June 30.
If approved, the bill would take effect when enacted, and essentially establish a last day to sign up. From that point, the department would offer meters to those on the priority list in the order that they appear on the list.
Existing applicants on the list together would require an additional 3.5 million gallons a day, according to water department director Dave Taylor. But, the department estimates only about half of those on the list have an immediate need for a meter.
The bill would allow applicants who can't immediately accept water service to obtain a reservation good for up to two years, plus two six-month extensions, to get needed infrastructure in place.
Council Member Gladys Baisa, who holds the Upcountry residency seat and disclosed that she is on the list, asked Taylor what would happen after the list is completed.
"This would establish a last day to sign up. So assuming that this whole plan is approved, and we go down (the list), the list is then gone," Taylor said. "At that point, it's just like the other areas; there is no list. So if we have water, if people come in, it's first-come, first-served."
With the list gone, future applicants seeking water meters in Upcountry will be "on equal footing," he said.
Council Member Mike White, who holds the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat, questioned whether the department has enough water to supply the full list, as well as new applicants in the future.
Taylor said the department has crunched numbers to forecast the county's water needs - and how much it would cost - by area over the next two decades in line with the growth projections in the draft Maui Island Plan.
He said Upcountry alone would require between $50 million and $100 million in capital funds.
"The point is that once this water's gone," Taylor said, referring to the added capacity "found" to supply the existing priority list, "the next thing is going to be dozens and dozens of millions of dollars."
Spreading that cost over new applicants won't be cheap.
"The actual cost per meter, excluding interest, for Upcountry to pay for that is about $24,000. So we can do it," he said. "It's basically . . . pumping some sort of groundwater up to Upcountry, but it's a huge cost. Much, much, much more than has ever been spent."
Now, the fee for a new meter is $6,030.
Baisa asked Taylor for any update on plans to purchase the private Piiholo South well for added capacity in Upcountry.
Taylor said that option is too premature at this point. He said ongoing priorities are to get the county's Hamakuapoko wells working and complete improvements to the Waikamoi flume and Olinda Water Treatment Plant first.
He said the next priority would be to build a reservoir of between 25 million and 50 million gallons at the Kamole Water Treatment Plant.
"The cost for that is about the same as developing a well, but we felt that if we got more money, we would do that first," he said of the reservoir. "Then, if there's more money after that, the next thing would be a well, either a well that's existing or develop our own well."
The move to eliminate the meter list is one of three bills Taylor said the department would need council support of before moving ahead with the overall plan.
One of the other two measures would authorize the water department director - with approval of the mayor - to declare drought or water shortage period in parts of the county, while another measure would establish increased drought rates to be charged during those periods.
The Water Resources Committee on Tuesday deferred action on the authorization measure. The Budget and Finance Committee will take up the bill dealing with rates.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.