Friday, September 16, 2011

Contaminated Well and Other Water Issues on Maui

Islandwide - There has been a lot of political activity this week in areas affecting rural and upcountry Maui, with a focus around water, but extending to GMOs and sustainability.

Maui has a land mass much larger than Oahu. It’s the second largest island in the Hawaiian Island chain, with about 120,000 residents and roughly 80,000 tourists a year. I don’t claim to have exact numbers, nor am I going to define resident versus tourist population or how many people are on island on any given day.  Needless to say, despite the resort areas along South and West Shores, Maui is still a rural island with large areas of agricultural land planted in sugar cane, pineapple, Monsanto experiments, and so forth. 

Water seems to be an ongoing issue for this island, with a huge waiting list for water permits and “water shortages” especially in upper Kula.  As an Oahu transplant, I am always surprised at how Oahu with a population of over 1.2 million living on a smaller land base doesn’t have the same water issues that Maui does.  Both islands receive a lot of rainfall, with Maui getting more rain and having more agriculture, and Oahu having far more people and far less agriculture.  Both islands have water usage demands, but on Maui, they have been an ongoing sore spot.

Issues with Maui water include contaminated well water, agricultural run-off, diversion from streams that are used to irrigate large-scale agriculture, cultural issues around water for Hawaiian taro farmers, and these issues are interconnected, and probably only the tip of the “water” iceberg.  This month, even farm stands have had water conflicts with the State Health Department shutting down a popular farm stand because it was not using chlorinated water.  There was a meeting this week for residents to air their opinions about the shut-down and to generate ideas for farm stands to deal with chlorinated water requirements.

There was also a recent County Council proposal to export or sell water to Japan!

This morning, there was a Council meeting to discuss approving using water from Hamakuapoko well, which is considered a contaminated water source with multiple economic concerns, health concerns and environmental impacts.  Even former water board members like Virginia Parsons oppose opening this well. Alternative proposals include using the County’s share of stream water available through a 2000 agreement with Alexander & Baldwin, which has deep economic ties throughout the island.

Other environmental news this week: a hearing to discuss GMO labeling on Maui, and a Maui Sustainability plan presented by Lucienne de Naie. It’s just been a busy week!

There are some excellent and well-researched articles and opinion pieces about Maui water issues, plus an active discussion on Facebook.   Maui Tomorrow is a good place to start.  Other great resources are Upcountry Sustainability and South Maui Sustainability.  

Update 9/18/11
Maui Tomorrow reported on 9/17 that the County Council voted on using Hamakuapoko well water for Emergency use only.  It is not unclear what constitutes an "emergency."  This is only an initial vote, and there will be a second hearing.  Three council members voted No:

Elle Cochran voted an absolute NO, because she did not want any Hamakuapoko well water used in any circumstance.  Thank you Elle!

Don Couch and Robert Carroll voted NO, only because they wanted the well water used ALL the time, not just for emergency water.

Read more about the intial 2011 vote on Hamakuapoko well water here.

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