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Progress on Water Policy in Maui County

Community Contributed

Opinion by Keani Rawlins-Fernandez

Shortly after joining the council, I noticed unfairness in the structure of our county’s potable water rates.

A hotel or resort using over 35,000 gallons of water was charged a lower rate than a single-family dwelling using the same amount. This disparity was based on a technical defect in the rate structure: single-family dwellings had four tiers while the other category of all other general users each had only three. 

Hotels and resorts are used by visitors for the profit of offshore investors. Single-family dwellings are where our local residents raise their families. 

I have presented twice to the Board of Water Supply, with the intention of working with them and the Department of Water Supply to balance important policy goals—conservation and revenue generation—in addition to equity in rates. 

I’m grateful to the board for inviting me to present and having a lively discussion, as documented in minutes of the Feb. 17 Board of Water Supply, available online at tinyurl.com/BWSminutes.

My proposal would create a separate category for hotel and resort, similar to that of Kapalua Water Company, a private water system. 

By creating a new hotel category, we would promote conservation by the most egregious water users and, finally, begin to address the inequity in water rates. 

While we in county government are working on updating the water-rate structure to benefit all residents, the state Commission on Water Resource Management has issued landmark decisions for those on Molokai and in Lahaina.  

First, in response to the urging of our Molokai community, the water commission established a median flow for five streams on Molokai: the East Kawela, East Kawela Tributary, West Kawela, Lualohe and Waikolu Streams. For more than a century, the streams were almost fully diverted and often ran dry.   

The water commission expects these restored stream flows will have dramatic benefits for groundwater recharge and nearshore ecosystems, as well as restoring coastal spring flows critical for limu growth.

Second, in an action advocated for by Councilmember Tamara Paltin and the West Maui community, the water commission unanimously agreed to designate the entire Lahaina Aquifer Sector Area as both a Surface Water and Ground Water Management Area. 

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

Meanwhile, Councilmember Shane Sinenci’s trailblazing charter amendment proposal forming water authorities to obtain and manage water systems in East Maui, and potentially beyond, has been engaged in committee deliberations crossing over two standing committees and is now before the council. 

I support my colleagues’ and communities’ diligence and boldness to ensure all levels of government are fulfilling their constitutional—and moral—responsibility to water as a public trust.


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