DOW’s water rate hike draws fire

LIHUE — Some Kauai residents aren’t happy with a recent Department of Water rate hike to fund future infrastructure projects and pay off exisiting bonds.

The increase, which took effect Monday, raised the water rates for general and agricultural consumers by 11.2 percent, marking the third of four rate increases approved by the Kauai Board of Water Supply back in December 2011.

Edwin Pereira, a 78-year-old Lihue resident, said he was born and raised on Kauai and can still remember the days when his family could still pay $1 for water, when they lived on a plantation.

Pereira said he understands times and conditions have changed but can’t understand why water rates have increased so much.

“Why are we paying all of this money when we have the wettest spot in the world and why are you guys always bringing up the price,” Pereira said at a June 25 water department meeting at the Lihue Neighborhood Center. “I’m a retiree and my pay will never rise. I’ll die, probably, because I cannot buy food — I can’t buy what I used to buy and now I got to pay water for that kind of price just to drink and take a bath. I cannot see this.”

Department of Water Manager and Chief Engineer David Craddick said there have been nine water rate increases since 2006, including five other 8.2 percent increases between 2006 and 2010.

“We have been undercharging for water for quite some time and have been borrowing to the point at which we can’t anymore,” Craddick said. “It’s our job to ensure customers have access to safe, clean water.”  

The latest increase will amount to 12 cents per day or $3.65 per month for the average customer who uses 7,500 gallons of water or less each month, according to DOW. The increase, in turn, will bring their total monthly bill to $49.43.

The money collected from these increases, Craddick said, will help the water department fund future recurring system replacement work with cash and pay down the principal on remaining infrastructure construction bonds totaling $20 million.

By avoiding interest payments, which are scheduled to begin next year, Craddick said the Department of Water will be able to fund almost double the amount of projects.

To stave off further ratepayer hikes after the last scheduled increase is implented in July 2014, Craddick said the DOW board is considering an increase to one-time facilities reserve charges, which are charged to new customers to get water system connections.

But, if that increase is not approved by the board, Craddick said the water department will either be forced to default on the bonds or use more ratepayer money to pay it off.

That’s not what Ken Taylor wants to hear.

The 74-year-old Kapaa resident said he moved to Kauai from the Mainland to continue growing different palm tree varieties. But this hobby, he said, has become increasingly expensive over the years.

“Palm trees require a lot of water when it’s not raining,” Taylor explained, “so the fees ultimately cost me money.”

The last water department meeting on the water increase is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday at the Waimea Neighborhood Center, 4556 Makeke Road.

• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-3681 or dmoriki@thegardenisland.com.

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