Water Protection at the Forefront

Department of Water Supply suggests plan to protect Molokai’s groundwater sources.

By Catherine Cluett

Water is a topic of concern for most people on Molokai. For some, the concern lies in the soaring costs of opening their faucets. Scarcity of this valuable resource is a worry for others. For the Department of Water Supply (DWS), one of the biggest concerns at this time is protection of Maui County’s groundwater for safe consumption.

During a meeting last Thursday of the Molokai Water Advisory Committee, the DWS presented the Wellhead Protection Strategy. “Source protection is not required by law,” emphasized DWS planner Marti Buckner. “It’s going to take you to protect it.”

The Wellhead Protection program requires public involvement to move forward. “The process has not yet started on Molokai because there has been no public process,” adds Buckner.

The process has already begun on Maui, and drafts of the Wellhead Protection Ordinance have been drawn up, says Ellen Kraftsow of the DWS.

A draft of the Ordinance reads “The jurisdiction of Maui County recognizes that many residents rely on groundwater for their safe drinking water supply, and that certain land uses can contaminate groundwater. To ensure the protection of these drinking water supplies, this ordinance established a zoning overlay district.”

These zoning overlays, known as Wellhead Protection Overlay Districts, would be superimposed on existing zoning districts to protect the areas from all future construction, activities or known contaminants that would jeopardize the quality of the water supply.

The zones surrounding a groundwater source would be broken into different delineations, based on the distance it takes groundwater during a specified time period. The first zone would be a 50 foot radius around the source, known as a “direct chemical contamination zone.” The “indirect microbial contamination zone” is based on a two-year travel time for groundwater, and a fourth zoning delineation would reflect a ten-year travel time. Each zone has a designated list of permitted and prohibited uses to protect the quality of groundwater in each wellhead area.

Many Molokai residents and members of the Water Advisory Committee voiced concerns about water quality on the island. Water utility companies are required to perform annual tests of water systems and water quality, says Kraftsow. Consumers also receive the results of these tests, mailed to their homes, called Consumer Confidence Reports, Kraftsow adds.

“I do receive the reports,” says Lori Buchanan, a member of the Molokai Planning Commission. “But they always say the same thing: ‘it’s all good,’” she laughs. “I think they copy and paste it into the report every year.”

Molokai has been designated as a sole source aquifer, which means the groundwater sources on the island are all interconnected. Because of this, “it should be an aquifer protection ordinance, not a wellhead protection ordinance,” observed Molokai resident Walter Ritte. “The aquifer should include the reefs, too,” he said. “We need a protection plan that includes this critical aspect of our culture and eco-system.”

Kraftsow explained a complete protection plan is a step-by-step process. “We can’t do everything at once,” she said. Wellhead protection is one phase of a greater plan that will focus on an ahapua`a-based protection system for water sheds, wellheads, and reefs.

“We need to protect the sustainable yield,” said Malia Akutagawa, director of the Molokai Rural Development Project. She emphasized the need for taking pro-active measures, such as re-forestation, to preserve our resources.

Carl Freedman, a DWS consultant, is looking toward the future. He prepared a variety of population growth and water use projection charts for Molokai. These projections, based on past values as well as expected increases, show Molokai’s population growing less than 1% each year.

The charts also indicate a large discrepancy in water production versus metered consumption, which means water is being lost between the source and the consumer. On Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) water lines, the percentage of unaccounted-for water is as high as 37% of total water production. This may point to significant leaks in older pipe-lines, Freedman says.

Updating pipes is a great idea to minimize system losses and conserve water, says Freedman. But will people complain when water rates go up to cover costs of the new pipe-lines and their installation? he wonders.

Freedman says Molokai has one of the most complicated water systems he has seen. Drawing up a draft of a Wellhead Protection Ordinance is a long process, adds Kraftsow. “But Molokai is already ahead of the game,” she says. A lot of research has already been completed, and residents are very knowledgeable about their own systems, she says.

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