Plan Seeks to Eliminate Upcountry Water Meter List

September 18, 2012, 12:00 PM HST · Updated September 21, 8:05 PM
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Water meter, photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

The Maui Department of Water Supply today presented a plan to resolve the Upcountry Water Meter Priority List within the next two to three years.

The waiting list, which now stands at 1,474 applications, dates back more than 15 years to August of 1997.  The list grew by 24 applicants over the previous year, when there were 1,450 requests recorded.

The Draft Upcountry Action Plan, presented by Water Director, Dave Taylor at today’s Water Resources Committee Meeting included the following key steps:

  1. Continue Hamakuapoko wells, Waikamoi flume improvements, and the Olinda WTP disinfection projects to minimize the “supply valleys”.
  2. Future budgets to include additional funding for the Kamaole WTP pumping to support more meters.  Taylor said that whenever there is water at Kamaole, the DOW wants to pump it up the hill to save water for when it is needed.  According to Taylor, this will cost between half-a-million and a million dollars per year for the additional pumping.
  3. The DOW is proposing an ordinance that allows the DWS Director to immediately temporarily increase upper tiers to limit demand peaks.
  4. Modify Upcountry Meter issuance Ordinance to establish a “Last Day to Sign Up” and “ration” allocation of new meters after list is gone.
  5. DWS offers water meters as per list (3.5 MGD): Assume 50% accept (due to improvement costs) 1.75 MGD; List GONE (assume 2-3 years to process); Afterwards, others can “partner” and come in anytime in the future regardless of previous place on list (until water unavailable); #5 contingent on #1, #2, #3 & #4 passing
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Taylor said he plans to send down three ordinances to the council in the next couple of weeks to accomplish the goals set forth in the plan.

According to Taylor, water capacity for Upcountry includes the following: Olinda Water Treatment Plant 0-2 million gallons of water per day; Piiholo WTP 0-5 mgd; Kamaole WTP 0-5 mgd; Haiku Well 0.5 mgd; Kaupakalua Well 0.9 mgd; Pookela Well 1.3 mgd.

According to Taylor, there is currently about 2 mgd of reliable capacity.  If everybody on the current list gets all the water that they are asking for, the desired capacity totals 3.5 mgd, he said.  “We do not have that much,” said Taylor.

“Based on previous offers, we know about half the people accept, and the other half do not due to the improvement costs,” said Taylor.  “Assuming that 50% accept the meters, that totals about 1.75 mgd. Over about the 2-3 years that it’s going to take to process through all of these, the list will be gone.”

While there are assumptions and unknowns, Taylor said, “based on what we’ve seen before, we think that if no more people sign up, and if we get the same rate of acceptance–we think there’s a very good chance we could get through the entire list, still have water left over, and in round two, let these people who want to share improvements come in.”

Draft Plan Features:

  • Taylor said the plan requires minimal capital, has high “big bang for buck” and manages cost/risk.
  • He said the plan limits/controls/manages short duration events and allows meter issuance
  • According to Taylor, future projects can add more storage and/or groundwater to further minimize short duration events (at substantially higher costs)
  • The proposed plan he said, maximizes use of high level water and existing infrastructure
  • Additional efforts would be “in addition” to plan, not “instead of” plan.

Additional Factors to Consider:

  • Requires Hamakuapoko wells and Waikamoi flume replacement
  • Taylor said this plan will only work if the ag line does NOT increase water usage
  • The plan is only possible now that Kamaole WTP has 3 MG storage and new high-lift pumps, as was not the case in the past.
  • System will operate with less “buffer”
  • Operation and maintenance expenditures more critical
  • Storage of major spare equipment mandatory (future budget items will be required)

“If we are going to do these projects, somehow we are going to need the revenue,” said Taylor.  He presented several funding options based on the issuance of 5/8 inch meters for the average single-family home.

  1. 5-6% rate increase would cost $20,000-$30,000. Under this option, DOW officials say “growth pays for growth”.  “The minimum rate increase that it’s going to take just to operate and keep existing users with existing service is about 5 or 6%.  That’s just replacing infrastructure and paying for operations.  Under a growth pays for growth philosophy, the normal single-family 5/8″ meters would need to be about $20,000 to $30,000 to create a pot to pay for the infrastructure, including debt service,” said Taylor.
  2. 10-12% rate increase, cost would remain at $6,030. This approach leaves meters where they are at, at $6,030, and raises rates to compensate.  Under this option, current customers help pay for new under this option. Taylor says this option would create the same overall revenue stream as the first option over the next 10 to 20 years.
  3. 8-10% rate increase, cost would be $10,000 to $15,000.  Under this option, cost is spread between new and current customers.
  4. 5-6% rate increase.  Cost remains at $6,030. No improvements or subsidize with the General Fund.

Moving forward, he said the department will now seek feedback from the council on policy issues, and will use the comments to fine tune their plan.

Taylor called today a “major shift.”  “We’re at the stage where we can really start making decisions,” he said.

“What we’ve shown is that by optimization and juggling water a little bit differently, and little improvements here and there, we can support another 2 mgd in the upcountry region,” said Taylor.

“Here’s the big policy question for the council: Do you want to use that to give new meters, or do you want to save it for drought tolerance?  You can’t do both,” said Taylor, who noted that the policy question would need to be discussed before the council.

“What our analysis shows, is that by implementing this plan, and offering these meters, won’t make the drought any better, and it won’t make the drought any worse,” he said.

Committee Chair Michael Victorino called the presentation an “enlightening” session.  “I think the public now, especially the Upcountry area is excited to hear what’s going on.  The term ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ is even getting brighter as we talk today,” said Victorino.  Victorino advised members to forward any questions so that they can be addressed as agenda items in the next meeting.

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa called the presentation “a diligent effort,” and “much more correct than it’s ever been before.”

“This water meter list in my opinion, has to be dissolved in order for us to move forward,” said Mayor Arakawa. “It puts too many restrictions on how people can get water even when they’re on the list, so it’s creating more of a hazard than it is a solution at this point,” said Arakawa.

Mayor Arakawa said the study conclusively shows that there is a “finite limit” to how much water there is in the Upcountry area, and that there is going to be an additional cost if the county develops low-level water and moves it Upcountry.

“This is a solution that we’ve been waiting for for a long time–to get rid of that water meter list.  People have been waiting for decades; and there are many people who have suffered severe financial losses because of this water meter list,” said Arakawa.  “Let’s get rid of it once and for all.”

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