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Making a Plan for Molokai’s Water

Advisory Council seeks community input.

By Jennifer Smith

With ever-changing weather patterns and a noticeable decrease in water supplies on the island, representatives from Maui County are seeking input on how to best manage Molokai’s water supply.

A Water Advisory Council (WAC) meeting held last Thursday continued discussions from two previous meetings on suggestions for the Maui County Water Use and Development Plan (WUDP). The agenda focused on identifying the island’s water needs and looking at possible resource options.

A Solid Start
“Molokai is way ahead of everybody else in some ways,” said Carl Freedman, Haiku Design & Analysis consultant for the Department of Water Supply (DWS). He said the recommendations and priorities provided by the recently disbanded Molokai Water Working Group (WWG) are “great statements of policy” and starting points for the WAC to build on.

Several of the WWG members participated in the last three WAC meetings, which helped to formulate a draft list of objectives for the WUDP.

While the county is responsible for creating and implementing the plan, the state Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) will have access to the document and may accept recommendations from the DWS.

Planning Objectives
Freedman said the council’s list of objectives will be an “ongoing thing” and under “continuous review.”

For now the focus is on looking to known water systems and finding where there are information gaps. Objectives to be looked into include identifying potable and non-potable water systems, resource protection and restoration, reduction in water losses, and the implementation of conservation and efficiency programs.

Future Usage
The WAC hopes that the adequate gathering and compiling of data will help to determine estimates of the island’s water needs for the next 25 years. Freedman said it is important to predict future usage because these numbers will contribute to potential water cutbacks and the planning for potential capital improvement projects, such as the installation of large pipes or the creation of water catchment basins.

A major contributing factor in estimating the future water needs will be the potential growth of agriculture on the island.

Homestead farmer and Molokai extension agent for the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture Glenn Teves said approximately 2,500 acres are currently being farmed under homestead and non-homestead use on the island.

Teves estimated that homestead farming increased 15 to 20 percent this year, and said it is safe to estimate that it will steadily increase about 10 percent every year.

Learning from the Past
Several community members voiced a concern at the Aug. 14 meeting over a lack of consideration given to historical knowledge of water on the island.

“History is missing,” said Walter Ritte, Homestead farmer. He said it is important to know what has been done in the past to avoid previous problems, such as uproars over the drilling of wells.

Homesteader Wade Lee suggested looking back to the knowledge of kupuna. He said several kupuna have mentioned how a “lei of clouds” used to bring water to the island.

Several other attendees agreed with Lee. They said efforts such as reforestation and the support of agriculture would encourage more precipitation on the island.

Lee also said the county needs to stop providing building permits in areas that lack a sufficient water supply. “Never give people land and then do the water last.”

Freedman said the county council recently passed a law requiring discretionary permits based on available water support for subdivisions.

Looking to the Future
Discussions are also underway to look into new water sources and the interconnection or reconfiguration of existing systems.

Suggestions included using recycled water (also known as grey water), utilizing new stream diversions, treating surface water, desalination of brackish water, and initiating agriculture efficiency groups.

A few attendees recommended changes to the current distribution of water from Molokai Ranch’s Mountain Water system and Well 17. Teves said it only makes sense to keep surface water on the surface, and potable water potable.

Freedman said he would look into the suggestion from a system view, but said recommendations could be difficult to implement because they deal with a private company’s systems.

Teves also recommended water catchments that are common on other islands. He said West End resident Steve Morgan caught 40,000 gallons of water at his home.

Gathering Information
After listening to the concerns and suggestions of Molokai residents, Freedman said he had his work cut out for him. He is looking to gather data and compile information on the objectives discussed during the meeting, and is hoping to talk to local residents to get a better insight.

Freedman asked attendees who would be the best people to talk to about various activities and water systems on the island, such as taro cultivation, fish ponds, and private systems. He noted difficulty in getting information from Molokai Ranch, but said he will continue trying to contact the company.

To provide feedback to Freedman and the DWS, attend the next WAC meeting on Sept. 11.

The DHHL conference room has been reserved for tentative use on the second Thursday of each month from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. through the end of 2008. An exception is set for the October meeting which is tentatively scheduled for the first Thursday.

The time, place and agenda for each meeting will be confirmed in advance of each meeting. For more information contact the Department of Water Supply at (808) 270-7816.

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