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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, January 10, 2002

Maui aquifer may be in trouble

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

WAILUKU, Maui — Speakers at a Commission on Water Resource Management public hearing last night had a common theme — that the aquifer system that supplies drinking water to much of Central and South Maui is deteriorating under Maui County control, and that the state should assert its authority to ensure water quality is not compromised.

"We definitely have a problem,'' said Sean Lester, a Kula farmer.

But county officials said the county Board of Water Supply is quite capable of safeguarding Maui's drinking water and should be allowed to continue its oversight of the aquifers.

The Wailuku Community Center hearing was convened by a commission asked to designate the '?ao and North Waihe'e aquifer systems as groundwater management areas. Such a designation would allow the state to better monitor the amount of water taken from the aquifers and ensure their sustainable yields are not exceeded.

The Maui Meadows Homeowners Association in Kihei submitted a petition for state intervention, saying its members feared damage to its main source of drinking water from new development and overpumping.

Those fears were echoed last night. A number of speakers pointed to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study of the '?ao and North Waihe'e aquifers that found water levels declining under severe drought and chloride (salt) concentrations on the rise. Federal officials also have questioned whether '?ao's sustainable yield is really 20 million gallons a day, as state and county officials believe.

"The county is failing to protect the system,'' declared Jim Williamson, homeowners association board member. "The time to wait and see is over.''

County officials have fended off several attempts to designate the '?ao Aquifer over the last two decades, saying the county can take care of its own problems.

David Craddick, director of the county Department of Water Supply, yesterday said water levels are on the rise, in part because his agency has made significant progress in recent years reducing pumping of of the '?ao Aquifer.

The Board of Water Supply, which recently voted against supporting designation, pledged to work closely with the commission to better manage the aquifer, Craddick said. The board also pledged to commit more manpower and money.

The Department of Water Supply pumps an average of 17.5 million gallons a day from the aquifer, Craddick said.

A Maui County Council committee examined the designation issue for six hours yesterday before delaying a decision on whether to take a stand on the designation issue.