Connecting The Drops

The future of Molokai’s water is top concern for advisory committee.
By Sean Aronson

As Molokai residents plan for the future of this island, preservation of native resources is at the top of the list.  This includes having animals to hunt and plants to eat. But it all begins with water.

A small group of concerned citizens gathered last week to hear the presentation of a water plan for Molokai.  The proposal will be submitted to the Maui County Department of Water Supply (MDWS) sometime this summer.  It will then go to the Maui County Council, where it may be adopted as official policy for the next twenty years.

Carl Freedman, a consultant working for the MDWS, presented a draft of his strategy.  His work is heavily influenced by the outcome of the Molokai Water Working Group, a group that met seven times over the course of a year to address water concerns on the island.  That body issued their report in May of 2008.

The draft proposal incorporates the island’s many water regions, from the east, west and especially the north – the source for the majority of reservoirs and aquifers.  As it is now, Molokai’s water systems are a complicated and convoluted network of private and public enterprises. There is the County system, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) system and several private systems.  The major private systems are those owned by Molokai Properties Limited (MPL) on the West end and the Kawela Plantation system on the East end.

In the Dark
Lack of communication between representatives of these diverse networks has led to calls for integration by some in the community.  Walter Ritte is one resident who believes creating a unified water system would give Molokai more control and ensure a more water-abundant future.

“We should create one entity and call it the ‘Molokai Water System,” said Ritte.  “That way we can be in charge of our own destiny.”

That lack of control is particularly apparent on the West end, where residents are dependant on MPL for their water.  Those residents pay nearly double the county rate for their water, despite asking the Public Utilities Commission to lower their rates. MPL recently received a six month extension to continue selling their water at a rate that’s been called exorbitant. The PUC also granted MPL permission to report their water usage confidentially – that information is now unavailable to the public.

Freedman said he is working to make that information available, but in the meantime he is left in the dark on the West end water situation.  He said phone calls to MPL go unreturned and so he has no idea how much water MPL has or uses.

Homestead Concerns
One of the most contested water systems is the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS), which is exclusively for agricultural uses, not drinking.  According to law, the MIS is to be used exclusively by Homestead farmers in Hoolehua, but they are not using it to capacity.  At present, 80% of water in the MIS is used by non-homestead accounts, according to Freedman’s’ study.  The majority of this is used by Molokai’s seed companies – Monsanto and Mycogen.

“What do we want to grow with these limited resources,” asked Walter Ritte, “Food or seeds?”

Freedman said he was concerned by the Homesteaders’ projection of using 20 million gallons of water per day (MGD) by the 2010.  Right now, they use less than one million gallons per day and the MIS can only handle about six MGD of usage, according to Freedman.

He wonders where this extra water would come from since water-abundant areas east of Pelekunu like Waikoloa Valley were declared kapu, or off-limits, by the Water Working Group.

Conservation is a priority for Freedman’s proposal and he has suggested several ways to approach this.  One is by simply using less water, which can be achieved through changing of water habits, whether it’s shorter showers or being more disciplined about watering gardens and lawns.

Another proposal for conservation includes detecting and repairing leaks to the various water systems, which could save millions of gallons of water.  Several leaks were found in the MIS and there are thought to be dozens more among the miles of underground pipeline that traverse the Molokai hillsides.

Also of concern to the water group is the granting of permits by Maui County for land owners to drill new wells in areas that have restricted water usages.  Judy Caparita, the self proclaimed ‘Molokai water lady’ said she knows of many instances where water permits exceed the allowable limits.

“Everybody is putting their straws in there, sucking up the water,” said Caparita.

At the next meeting, Freedman will present his proposal in a document, which he hopes will elicit suggestions and critique.  All Molokai residents are encouraged to attend.

The Water Advisory Committee will not be meeting in April, but will meet again in May.  Check for updates.


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