WAILUKU – Council Member Riki Hokama reopened the issue of moving the Central Maui sewage treatment plant inland at a meeting of the Water Resources Committee on Tuesday.
It was a surprise from the fiscally conservative Hokama. While he was off the council because of term limits, the County Council debated the wisdom of moving the Wailuku-Kahului plant (which is in a tsunami zone near the airport), but it shied away from the price tag of $300 million to $400 million.
But as long as members of the new council were throwing out surprising ideas, Council Member Joe Pontanilla mused that perhaps the county should “have an ordinance about how much greenery to put in” in landscaped dry areas.
He didn’t pursue that, but it showed that the council is concerned about diminishing water supplies.
The item under discussion was a report from the Department of Environmental Management about ways to increase the use of treated sewage effluent from the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
All the public testimony was in favor of making more use of reclaimed water. Even if it means higher rates and fees, said Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation.
It would. Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza said he had anticipated such a question, and the cheapest alternative would mean about a $5-per-month increase in water rates if spread out over the whole county.
That would finance an expanded reclamation program for Central Maui. Ginoza did not have cost estimates for similar expansions in Kihei or Lahaina, but since the infrastructure needed would be similar, the costs likely would be similar.
Dave Taylor, who until recently was head of the county’s Wastewater Reclamation Division and now serves as director of the Department of Water Supply, said the basic question to ask is: What is your goal?
For reclaimed water, is it primarily to reduce the use of injection wells, to reduce withdrawals of stream water or to ease the pressure on the supply of drinking water?
The proposed projects for the Kahului plant would have an impact on all three issues, he said, but the impacts would not be equal.
The study, prepared last year, found that spending $29 million could reduce the amount of effluent put into injection wells by 95 percent, but it would have much less impact on the use of potable water for irrigation (the subject of Pontanilla’s rumination).
When Ginoza and Taylor were asked which of the alternatives they would choose, both deferred to the council. That’s where the policy should be declared, they said.
The men, both engineers, said that if they had a policy direction, then they could choose which engineering solution would create the most benefit for the least cost.
Taylor, when head of the Wastewater Reclamation Division, had proposed armoring the Kahului plant as a cheaper alternative to building a new one inland. Most of that program has been bought and paid for.
He told Hokama that, if the council did choose to build an inland plant, any of the reclamation transmission networks under review Tuesday could be adapted at a small fractional cost. “Water would still have to be moved,” he said.
Ginoza said the council should consider how much it has in the way of financial resources and distribute them to accomplish needed goals. Operation and maintenance of the existing system to maintain health and safety should take funding priority, he said.
Committee Chairman Mike Victorino said that among the three reasons for making more use of reclaimed water, cutting back on injection wells is his primary motivation.
Michael Howden, chairman of the Board of Water Supply, had said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is looking at injection wells.
Taylor said that a review is under way, but no regulatory requirements are in place, or even in the process of being imposed, that would require the county to cease using injection wells.
Victorino asked the committee to defer the agenda item for more discussion later.