On Oct. 23, the director of the county Department of Water Supply presented what he saw as parameters of the solutions to the Upcountry water meter problem. We were told that these solutions were tentative and open to discussion.
However, the facts presented by the department, and the response from the director, seemed to me less than genuine.
The figures used during the presentation were somewhat skewed or inaccurate. For example, the production figures for the Kamaole Weir, presently the primary source of Upcountry water, were presented as being in the range of 6 million gallons per day to 7 mgd, whereas in actuality, the Kamaole Weir can produce 9 mgd or more. This is important because the discussion centered around having 2 mgd more in available water in order to meet most of the needs of the Upcountry meter list.
Actually, the water is there. East Maui Irrigation Co./Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. takes on average more than 200 mgd from the East Maui watershed, mostly from the Wailoa Ditch that feeds Kamaole Weir. The director considers this source unreliable. According to him, at least 30 times within the last 10 years, there was no water in the Wailoa Ditch. He was challenged on this by the meeting's moderator.
There seems to be a preference on the part of the department for using pumped groundwater rather than surface water, which the director considers unreliable as it is highly variable, though not to the point of not supplying enough water for the entire Upcountry water system. The costs of pumping throughout the Upcountry system, especially into the upper two tiers of the system, are already very high and most likely to go even higher. And that assumes that the fuel supply is constant and not subject to fluctuations in the global economy or from other natural or man-made disasters.
Then there are the questions of the reliability of the wells themselves, and, in the case of the Hamakuapoko wells, their latent toxicity and the costs of purifying water from these wells.
As the director was extolling the virtues and reliability of well water as opposed to surface water (seasonal fluctuations), he acknowledged that the Kaupakalua well was down and that it was uncertain when it would be put back on line. The wells in the public system go down on an almost regular basis. Even if the parts were locally available - which, for the most part, they are not - it sometimes takes weeks or months to get these wells back on line.
The elephant in the house, which was not part of the presentation by the department, is the memorandum of understanding with EMI/HC&S concerning county withdrawals from the Wailoa Ditch. The county has the right, under this long-standing agreement, to pull up to 15 mgd from the Wailoa Ditch, considerably more than is presently taken. This fact is well known to the administration and to most council members. Yet it was not discussed in the presentation and was readily dismissed by the director when the issue was raised.
If we need more capacity at Kamaole Weir, we can either go forward with the installation of high-lift pumps and better (more productive) filtration systems and/or build another treatment plant at the Weir to better utilize (for public purposes) the water arriving through the ditch system.
These are facts well known to our present administration which has, in the past, advocated for such design changes and for availing ourselves of waters to which the county has every right. This is leaving aside all issues of the rights to public trust waters, which have been largely appropriated by HC&S in the face of the county's historical inaction.
It is curious that the county would again move toward using the Hamakuapoko wells and other wells at great expense when we already have rights of withdrawal that would more than satisfy our needs. At the very least, the foundations of a transition from EMI/HC&S' control of the ditch system to county and community control must be initiated.
* Michael Howden is former two-term chairman of the county of Maui Board of Water Supply. He lives in Olinda.