Published in The Maui News, September 11, 2016
By GLADYS BAISA , The Maui News
Many adults in Maui County have never known a world without the Upcountry water meter priority list.
Those of us in policymaking roles for the county have rarely dealt with an issue of such persistence and frustration. But progress is being made in making more water meters available to those on the list.
The Upcountry Water District, which includes the Makawao, Lower Kula and Upper Kula public water systems, provides drinking water to residents of Haiku, Haliimaile, Makawao, Pukalani, Kula, Ulupalakua and Kanaio. In 1993, the county determined the district had insufficient water supply for domestic and irrigation purposes, which precluded the county from issuing new water meters in the area.
The Upcountry priority list was created in 1994 as a rationing tool, to help the county prioritize the issuance of water meters in the Upcountry Water District. For more than 20 years, those on the list could only wait, as the county issued no new meters to Upcountry landowners.
The social and financial costs arising from the lack of new water meters have been far reaching. With families and developers unable to build or expand homes, economic stress and stagnation have ensued, and opportunities for affordable housing, agricultural production and economic development have been lost throughout Upcountry Maui.
Thankfully, the first signs of relief came two-and-a-half years ago as the department began offering meters to those at the top of the list. Today, thanks to focused attention and work, there is even more reason for optimism.
As chair of the County Council’s Water Resources Committee, I’ve been striving to work for those who remain on the priority list. I’ve conducted multiple meetings to allow the public to share concerns and ideas and the department to provide updates, most recently on Aug. 3.
As a result of the committee’s relentless focus on this issue, more county staffers are being reassigned to do the work that’s necessary to make water meters available to more applicants on the Upcountry priority list.
In addition, the committee has passed legislation, subsequently approved by the full council and signed into law by the mayor, to provide assistance to some on the Upcountry priority list.
For example, Ordinance 4255 says applicants on the list who have been offered water meters and are able to connect to the existing water system won’t be required to make costly, and often needless, infrastructure improvements for fire protection, subject to certain conditions.
The ordinance also amended Chapter 14.13 of the County Code to clarify that the list’s purpose is “to give Upcountry residents on the priority list the opportunity to receive water service . . . so that it may be possible to build a home on their property for themselves or their families.”
The Water Resources Committee expects to hear about more solutions at its next meeting on the Upcountry priority list, on Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the Council Chambers. The committee has received well-informed, passionate, valuable testimony whenever this subject has been on a meeting agenda in the past, and I hope for more of the same this time.
The meeting is open to the public and can be viewed live on Akaku or at mauicounty.us.
A hui hou.
* Gladys Baisa holds the council seat for the Upcountry Maui residency area. She is the chairwoman of the Water Resources Committee. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Visit mauicounty.us for more information.