WAILUKU — The governing authority for Maui’s water utility plans to study the feasibility of buying and maintaining an irrigation system that diverts stream water from east Maui and delivers it other parts of the island.
The county Board of Water Supply voted Thursday to establish a subcommittee to study the issue, The Maui News reported.
Alexander & Baldwin developed the East Maui Irrigation system a century ago to supply water to its sugar cane fields in central Maui. The company last year sold the cane fields to Mahi Pono, which is growing a variety of crops on the land.
The system, which is today owned by A&B and Mahi Pono, has also supplied 35,000 residents in Upcountry with water.
These water users have been in limbo after a bill that would have authorized the state to extend A&B’s water permits failed at the state Legislature in May.
A&B’s diversion permit expires in December. The bill’s failure raises questions about the permit’s renewal and the delivery of water to end users after that date.
The subcommittee will present recommendations to the board and offer strategies for ensuring that the “people of Maui County have authority over the delivery of water,” according to a board document.
Eight of the board’s nine members voted for the study.
Member Hanna Mounce said the community has repeatedly suggested that the board investigate the matter.
“It has been asked of us many times, and I think we should follow through,” Mounce said. Still, she said she doesn’t believe the county should take over the irrigation system.
Member Dean Frampton said that based on public reports, East Maui Irrigation requires about $2 million per year to maintain. However, the county pays 6 cents for every 1,000 gallons of water used, which equals about $65,000 annually for more than 1 billion gallons per year in demand, he said.
“That’s a good deal,” said Frampton, who also said the county should not be the one to take over the system.