Water Policy Progress in Maui County | News, Sports, Jobs

Shortly after joining the council, I noticed an injustice in our county’s drinking water rate structure.

A hotel or resort using more than 35,000 gallons of water was billed at a lower rate than a single family home using the same amount. This disparity was based on a technical flaw in the rate structure: single family homes had four levels while the other category of all other general users only had three levels each. Another striking disparity is in water use: one resort uses more water than 1,872 single-family homes in a day, at an average of 500,000 gallons per day.

Hotels and resorts are used by visitors for the benefit of foreign investors. Single family homes are where our local residents raise their families.

I began to study ways to repair the structure. Last year, I presented my initial ideas to the Board of Water Supply, intending to work with them to balance important policy goals – conservation and revenue generation – in addition to rate fairness.

After receiving feedback from council and discussions with the Ministry of Water Supply, I submitted an updated proposal earlier this year. I am grateful to the board for inviting me to present and have a lively discussion, as documented in the February 17 Water Supply Board Minutes, available online: tinyurl.com/BWSminutes.

My proposal would create a separate category for hotels and resorts, similar to Kapalua Water Company, a private water system, which has a separate category for hotels.

A member of the Board of Water Supply acknowledged that “It seems that the resorts get preferential treatment.” I accepted, adding that “It doesn’t look like flagrant users will voluntarily retain more.” A new, more thoughtful rate structure can use financial incentives to “motivate them to consume less.”

Our current structure includes two categories — “single parent family” and “all other general users”, which includes multi-family, commercial and hotel and resort. By creating a new category of hotels, we would promote conservation by the most egregious water users and ultimately begin to address inequity in water rates.

As we in county government work to update the water rate structure to benefit all residents, the State Commission on Water Resources Management has made landmark decisions for those of Molokai and Lahaina.

First, on April 19, in response to the insistence of our community of Molokai, the water commission set a median flow for five streams on Molokai: East Kawela, East Kawela Tributary, West Kawela, Lualohe and Waikolu. For more than a century, waterways were almost entirely diverted and often dried up.

The water commission expects these restored river flows to have significant benefits for groundwater recharge and coastal ecosystems, as well as for the restoration of coastal spring flows essential for the growth of the lime.

Second, in an action advocated by Council Member Tamara Paltin and the community of West Maui, the water commission unanimously agreed to designate the entire area of ​​the Lahaina Aquifer Sector as a surface water and groundwater management. This designation gives the water commission tools to identify uses, assess impacts and wastes, respond to public trust priorities and balance needs, implement alternatives, and plan for drought conditions, which are of course producing more regularly due to climate change.

Both of these important decisions are positive steps toward protecting water resources and ensuring that water remains accessible to the people of Maui County.

Meanwhile, Council Member Shane Sinenci’s pioneering charter amendment proposal forming water authorities to obtain and manage water systems in East Maui, and potentially beyond, has been engaged in the committee deliberations crossing two standing committees. The council must approve proposed amendments to the charter by this month to ensure voting questions can be placed on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election.

I support the diligence and boldness of my colleagues and communities to ensure that all levels of government fulfill their constitutional — and moral — responsibility for water as a public good.

* Keani NW Rawlins-Fernandez is Vice Chairman of Maui County Council and Chair of the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee. She holds the council seat of the Molokai residence area. “3 Minutes of the Council” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Visit mauicounty.us for more information.

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