Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005

Maui studying desalination plant potential

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

WAILUKU, Maui — Maui County is studying the potential of building a desalination plant to bolster water supplies during times of drought.

A consultant has been hired to look at technology options, costs and potential locations for a plant designed to turn seawater into fresh, drinkable water, Mayor Alan Arakawa said yesterday.

Arakawa, who gave his state-of-the-county address yesterday, said he visited desalination plants in Okinawa late last year and came away impressed.

"I was pleased to learn that the technology is American — technology that we can access and that we will be using to assist our system and supply evaluations," he said.

Arakawa said such a plant would provide water-system stability during periods of drought. The tentative plan, he said, is to supplement the island's water supply with desalinized water during the dry summer months.

Maui County isn't the only Hawai'i county looking at desalination. A $40 million-plus desalination plant is planned for Campbell Industrial Park. Using a reverse osmosis process that pumps seawater at high pressure through a series of membranes, the plant initially was designed to produce 5 million gallons a day for Leeward O'ahu and to have the ability to expand to 35 million gallons a day.

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply built a pilot plant in 2003, but may change the proposal, said consultant Ian Kitajima of Oceanit Laboratories Inc.

The Hawai'i Chapter of the Sierra Club is opposing the project, saying it could do more harm than good by enabling additional development on O'ahu.

Jeff Mikulina, Hawai'i Chapter director, also said the amount of energy needed to run a desalination plant makes it a bad choice in the Islands. He said the money would be better spent on conservation, from stopping leaks to investing in watersheds to improve water yields.

"Desalinating water in Hawai'i before every reasonable water conservation measure is aggressively pursued is economic folly," Mikulina said.

Arakawa said Okinawa has seven plants helping to take care of its people's drinking water needs. He said a desalination plant would give Maui County the time and flexibility to resolve water rights issues connected to its goal of using more water.

Council Chairman Riki Hokama said he looks forward to seeing what desalination can do for the county.

Reach Timothy Hurley at (808) 244-4880 or thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com.