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Fragile Maui Aquifer to be Managed by State Authorities

`Iao Aquifer faced "certain destruction" under county control
July 21, 2003
Kihei, HI —

After years of hard work, Maui Meadows Homeowners Association's efforts have finally paid off. Today, Maui's `Iao Aquifer, the principal source of drinking water for Central and South Maui and Pa`ia, is finally designated as a State ground water management area. Designation means that the State Commission on Water Resource Management ("Water Commission") has taken control of the aquifer out of the Maui County Department of Water Supply's hands, and the Water Commission will now manage the aquifer. This change in management is a direct result of Maui Meadows' petition to designate `Iao, which was filed with the Water Commission back in July of 2001.

"We petitioned to designate the `Iao Aquifer because it's our primary source of drinking water and, unless management efforts are stepped up, the aquifer will continue down a path to certain destruction: ground water levels are declining; the chloride content of pumped water (which measures the salt content of water) is increasing and has seriously contaminated certain wells; and there is a continual increase in the level of salt water underlying the fresh water lens. All the while, Maui County Department of Water Supply has done little to nothing to develop alternative sources of water. Indeed, the Water Director at the time that we filed our petition stated that there was no source problem. We came to believe that the concerns of the public would only be addressed by intervention of the State through the designation process. Our agenda was simple: protect the aquifer," explained Jim Williamson, Vice President of Maui Meadows Homeowners Association.

Hawai'i's State Constitution mandates that the Water Commission "protect, control and regulate the use of Hawai'i's water resources for the benefit of its people." Despite this clear directive, the Water Code's system of management provides administrative control through water use permitting only in designated water management areas. Designation is, therefore, a necessary first-step in controlling water use because it establishes a regulatory regime to ensure that all water use in that area is consistent with the public interest.

After over a year of scientific investigations and research by Commission staff, it was determined that both `Iao and Waihe`e aquifers were threatened by proposed withdrawals of water. However, the Water Commission at its November 2002 meeting, denied Maui Meadows petition to designate and allowed Maui County to continue managing the aquifers. The Commission instead adopted "triggers" for automatic designation, threatening to take over management of the `Iao aquifer if, among other things, the 12-month moving average of pumpage for `Iao exceeded 18 million gallons per day. As soon as pumpage data through the end of June became available, Jim Williamson of Maui Meadows discovered that the trigger had been satisfied and Earthjustice, on behalf of Maui Meadows, notified the Water Commission. Designation is final as of today, the date that the Water Commission publishes notice of its action in a newspaper of general circulation.

"We're pleased that the `Iao aquifer has finally been designated, but such action is long overdue. Our State Constitution and Water Code require active management of our water resources, not crises management. Hinging designation on the satisfaction of "triggers" has allowed conditions in `Iao to go from bad to worse. This is simply unacceptable, both the law and common sense demand more when public trust resources are at stake," explained Kapua Sproat, an Earthjustice attorney representing Maui Meadows Homeowners Association. "Now that the Commission has finally designated `Iao, we expect them to get in there and take the bull by the horns: actively regulating water use to ensure that it is consistent with the public interest," Sproat said.

Now that designation is final, the process for regulating water use in `Iao will begin. Within one year of today's notice, all ground water users in `Iao – except individual users who use less than 25,000 gallons per day for domestic consumption – must apply for a use permit from the Water Commission. Both Maui Meadows and Earthjustice will be closely monitoring this process.

"We are also hopeful that there will be a concerted effort by the Commission to press for immediate development of alternative sources of water to take the load off of `Iao and its neighboring Waihe`e Aquifer. Such sources may include ground and surface water from the Waikapü Aquifer, increased flow from the existing ditch, and fast track development of ground water wells in the far reaches of the Kahakuloa Aquifer," Williamson added.

The Maui Meadows Homeowners Association is a grassroots community organization consisting of homeowners from the Maui Meadows subdivision in Kihei. The association has been active in water and land use issues on Maui for many years and its members and their neighbors rely on the `Iao aquifer to satisfy their water needs.

Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Hawai'i regional office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawai'i and the Mid-Pacific.

Contacts

Kapua Sproat, Earthjustice (808) 599-2436

Jim Williamson, Maui Meadows (808) 874-6151

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Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.