Hawai`i County Officials Are Grilled Over Terminology in Water Plan Update

posted in: September 2015 | 0

The Hawai`i County Department of Water Supply has been revising the Keauhou section of its Water Use and Development Plan, under the watchful eyes of the staff of the state Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM), which ordered the revision last December so that it would have the information necessary to decide on the National Park Service’s petition to designate the Keauhou aquifer system as a Water Management Area.

But when the commission met last month in Kona to review the county’s progress, at least one member was not pleased to learn that the DWS had not included in its projections for future water use most of the 10 villages along a transit corridor that have been included in the county’s Kona Community Development Plan.

After Lenore Ohye, of the commission’s staff, gave an overview of work on the plan since last spring, Maui commissioner Jonathan Starr noted that the plan makes repeated references to “anticipated water demand.”

“That’s not a term I had seen before,” he said, adding that the Hawai`i Water Code itself “mandates us to consider authorized planned use.”

“Before we accept a demand model based on anticipated water demand, I would want to have a legal analysis of what it means to use that as the benchmark instead of authorized planned use.”

Under the Water Code, one of the triggers for designation is when authorized planned use approaches 90 percent of an aquifer’s sustainable yield. Under the county’s draft water plan, the “anticipated water demand” in Keauhou is around 75 percent of sustainable yield.

Ohye replied to Starr, stating that, “from the staff’s perspective, we think it’s interchangeable. … A semantic thing. We consider that when you look at the criterion for designation – of authorized planned use being at 90 percent – this [anticipated water demand] is the figure.”

Commissioner Kamana Beamer from the Big Island asked Ohye if the “authorized planned use” term had been substituted with any other term in any other county.  No, Ohye replied.

Keith Okamoto, manager and chief engineer for the county DWS, then informed the commissioners that, as commission staff themselves explained in a prior submittal to the commission, “authorized planned use was accommodated differently each time” the commission dealt with four previous groundwater management area designation petitions. “So we came up with that term” – anticipated water demand – “to come up with future water needs,” he said.

So, asked Beamer, “does the county object to referring to the numbers as authorized planned use?”

“Our concern,” Okamoto replied, “in light of the history of authorized planned use, was to see that it could be used inappropriately if we call it such and it turns out to have a different definition down the road.”

Starr jumped in. “You’re skating around, so it becomes statutorily impossible to pin you down,” he said. “You’re creating another term that’s slightly different so you manage to sneak out from the language and the mandates and the letter, if not spirit, of the state Water Code….. If [the terms] are equal, why not just use the one that’s in [the Water Code] and not create new language?”

Okamoto objected strongly to Starr’s characterization. “It was never our intention to skirt any issue or hide behind any words… We don’t intend to hide anything from staff. We try to give them the best available information so they can present that to you folks.”

Linda Chow, the deputy attorney general advising the commission, attempted to pour oil on the troubled waters when she advised the commissioners that they themselves would be the ones to determine if the terms were interchangeable. The commissioners went on to discuss other aspects of the county’s scope of work for the second phase of its updated water plan.

‘A Farce’

And then came the public testimony.

Jonathan Scheuer, a consultant to the National Park Service and vice chair of the state Land Use Commission, pointed out to the commissioners the fact that the county’s projections were only for areas that had received final zoning for a given use. “There’s a difference between authorized planned use and zoning,” Scheuer said. “Zoning comes at the end of the development process, right before you build. It’s shorter-term demand. The long-term things are what’s in the state Land Use District, county general plans.”

By not considering elements in the county’s longer-term plans, Scheuer argued, the county was able to low-ball figures in its “anticipated water demand” projections. He noted that the county had estimated that its “transit-oriented developments” would have a water demand of just 1.85 million gallons a day (mgd).

“But the [Kona Community Development Plan] proposes 10 or more transit-oriented developments. Kaloko Makai alone said its potable water demand would be 2.85 mgd. So the entire demand for the Kona CDP in this Water Use and Development Plan is less than just one transit-oriented development.” (Kaloko Makai is a proposed mixed use development that would span more than 1,100 acres in Kaloko and include up to 5,000 new residences, a hospital, schools, commercial space, parks and a judiciary complex.)

Duane Kanuha, the county’s planning director, attempted to explain the county’s rationale.

“The Community Development Plan is related to transit-oriented-development concepts – communities with a higher density, but with connectivity,” he said. “The difficulty is that in order to effectuate these TODs, we’re looking at between 500 and 700 million dollars in improvements. … Which is why, based on the projections for the Kona CDP, we don’t see any implementation of these TODs for a long period of time. … Right now, most of those TOD’s don’t have authorized planned use. They’re not in the Urban [land use district], not in our zoning.”

Starr: “So the term was changed from authorized planned use to anticipated water demand because you did not want to acknowledge those 10 TOD centers as part of it. So you thought by changing the term you could avoid dealing with the demand that they would add to the demand side of the plan?”

Kanuha’s reply was hardly helpful: “The Department of Water Supply doesn’t intend to change the definition,” he said. “Instead, they’re going to provide this projection under the different definition.”

“So this water plan, the demand side, is a farce!” Starr said, unable to hide his anger.

Okamoto then attempted to clarify the county’s methodology: “If it was a TOD but didn’t have zoning classification, it wasn’t included. It doesn’t have the authority to proceed. … It is not a farce.”

“So,” Starr asked, “if any of these [TODs] are headed for approval, is there the intention to approve changes to the Water Use and Development Plan before they can be entitled?”

Yes, Okamoto replied. The plan is intended to be a “living document,” he added, which would be updated when future land use approvals are given. Updates to the plan would most likely require approval of the full County Council, however, since under the Water Code, the county plans must be adopted by county governing bodies before they are then approved by the Water Commission. In addition, while the county Department of Water Supply advises the Planning Department and planning commissions, it has no authority to set conditions on land use approvals and entitlements.

Starr’s outburst prompted commissioner Ginny Pressler, director of the state Department of Health, to make a rare contribution to the discussion. “I feel compelled to speak out,” she said. If Starr “insults anyone else, he should be excused from this hearing.”

Further Revisions

CWRM staff had requested that the commission approve progress to date on Phase I of the county plan update and a scope of work for Phase II, which is to focus on water supply. (In addition to updating the Keauhou aquifer section of the plan, the county is also having its consultant, Fukunaga and Associates, update the Waimea section to take account of growth in that area. The main focus of the Water Commission’s attention, however, is Keauhou.)

Several commissioners were concerned that the demand projections dealt only with consumptive uses, with no allowance made for the water needs of resources held in the public trust, traditional and customary uses, and requirements of native ecosystems, including those in Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park.

In February, the commission had voted to require the county, as it prepares revisions to its WUDP, to front-load its assessments of the impacts water withdrawals may have on traditional and customary native Hawaiian practices and on the environment. The county was to start by using available published information from environmental assessments and the like, and provide a preliminary report to the commission by May 30. On May 27, the DWS informed the commission that it had reviewed more than 200 such reports prepared from the 1990s to the present. “Only one report was found to address the potential impact of pumping water and the potential impacts to [traditional and cultural practices] as well as other habitat concerns.” That report was for the Palani Ranch Well No. 1 project, the DWS wrote, and “appears to adequately address concerns” raised by the Park Service. “DWS also plans to continue to seek input from community members and/or organizations that may have information regarding [T&C] and if there may be any link to groundwater usage,” the DWS said.

At the commission’s August 17 meeting,  Ohye reported that the county had begun to do a cultural assessment but was “committed to continuing that.”

“Your concern over environmental and cultural needs is very, very important and needs to be part of the plan,” Ohye responded. “But that’s not what you’re approving today.”

The county agreed that it would take account of these issues in the next phase of the water plan update.

With that, the commission voted to authorize the county to move forward with Phase II of the water plan update. It also gave its preliminary approval to the Phase I work, with the understanding that it may require revisions in light of findings obtained in Phase II.

— Patricia Tummons



O`ahu Water Use Plans Include `Cushion for Climate Change’

When it comes to preparing Water Use and Development Plans, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply’s approach is the “gold standard,” according to Water Commissioner Jonathan Starr. Rather than simply projecting future water needs and discussing where new water sources need to be developed, the BWS’s plans also incorporate watershed management needs and recognize the potential impacts of climate change and the need to protect native Hawaiian rights and traditional customary practices. In fact, the BWS actually calls the plans Watershed Management Plans rather than Water Use and Development Plans.

BWS Water Resources Program administrator Barry Usagawa told the Water Commission last month that for the entire island, the potable water demand is expected to reach 89 mgd over the next 30 years and that the BWS will have developed a supply of 102 mgd to meet that need. The extra 13 mgd is a “cushion for climate change,” he said.

By conserving water and reusing treated wastewater, O`ahu will not only conserve its potable water sources, but it will also drastically reduce the need over the next few decades to desalinate seawater, which is a very expensive process. The BWS’s plans anticipate that several million gallons a day of recycled water will be used to water agricultural lands and for landscaping. As a result, Usagawa said the projected amount of desalinated water needed has been reduced from 15 million gallons a day to a mere 1.5 mgd.

The agency has already completed plans for O`ahu’s Wai`anae and Ko`olau Loa districts and is working on plans for the North Shore, `Ewa, and Central O`ahu districts.

— Teresa Dawson

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