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Councilmember Says Upcountry Maui Water Restrictions Not Related to Resorts

Ryan McGuire

Drought conditions on Maui have led county officials to declare a water conservation alert for Upcountry residents, sparking some controversy among those who thought nearby hotels should be asked to conserve water as well.

Maui Councilmember Yuki Lei Sugimura says water from Upcountry does not feed resorts on the town side, including resorts in Wailea and Makena. In fact, their water comes from the Central Maui system.

Starting July 2, the Department of Water Supply prohibited "Upcountry water consumers from using water for irrigation, watering lawns, washing vehicles or other nonessential activities." The department said failure to comply may result in penalties, including a $500 fine and removal of a water meter for subsequent violations.

The Upcountry Maui water service area includes Makawao, Upper and Lower Kula, Haʻikū, Pukalani, Kokomo, Kaupakalua, Ulumalu, Ulupalakua and Kanaio, the water department said.

"The Upcountry water drought condition impacts the Upcountry residents, farmers, ranchers, people who are in that geographic area," Sugimura said. "I think what they're equating the water drought to is that we have too many people, but my read on this is that we need to actually drill more water resources. Of course, it takes millions of dollars."

The drier summer months from May through September also bring an increased wildfire threat in the area, she said, so having enough water is vital.

"The most important thing is the community is being asked to work together to restrict excessive water use. If it's not anything that's essential, please limit your use of water so that we have enough water for our families and our food security which is important to keep our communities healthy and fed," Sugimura told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

While Upcountry residents have been told to conserve water, the bigger impacts have been on the area ranches.

Jordan Jokiel, vice president and land manager for the nearly 30,000-acre Haleakala Ranch, shared how the dry conditions directly affect his acreage.

Jokiel said the ranch is contending with a proliferation of invasive species, an enhanced wildfire threat, a need to improve its water system, and a lack of feed for cattle because their pastures are not being irrigated.

"All the water that we use on the ranch, out in our pastures is to provide drinking water for cattle. So the amount of feed we have is completely dependent on the amount of rainfall that we get on the ranch," Jokiel said.

Click the "Listen" button at the top of the article to hear more from Sugimura and Jokiel. This segment aired on The Conversation on July 14, 2021.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation and host of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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