Water Alert

Molokai Water Rights, Development and Distribution

The Papohaku Homeowners Association (PHA) is asking its members to learn and become engaged in the crucial events unfolding now that will determine our water availability and cost on the West End.  A brief summary of water rights, availability, and the current and evolving threats to West End water rights follows.

In 1992 all of Molokai was assigned to be one of 10 specially designated ground water management areas, with development and allocation of water rights to be controlled by the state Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM).  Water for all of the West End is supplied by Molokai Properties Limited (MPL or “the Ranch”), which owns and operates the water company for all members of the West Molokai Association (WMA) and the inhabitants of Maunaloa.

In 1993 MPL was granted a permit to draw water from their well 17, out of the Kualapu’u aquifer, felt to be capable then of providing about 5 million gallons per day (gpd) sustainably.  The Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) then contested this, and the litigation has continued to the present time.

Eventually in 2007, the Hawaiian Supreme Court overruled the CWRM’s granting of the MPL permit, citing inadequate consideration of issues of public trust and preservation of Hawaiian practices and traditions.  DHHL applied for 595,000 gpd for the Homelands from the aquifer in the contested case.

In 2008 MPL said they couldn’t continue the contested case, and after the Molokai Ranch shuttered the hotel and the golf course, they also sought to stop running the water utility.  The State and Maui County refused to take over the utility, and MPL was forced to continue providing water to the West End. However, with the water user base diminished by MPL’s closing of the golf course and their hotel and tourist facilities, MPL sought to be reimbursed for all of the overhead for the water system from the remaining West End residents.  MPL then pursued and was granted a major water rate increase by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).  The WMA felt this to be unfair, since the rate increase was due to MPL’s closure of their own facilities.  The WMA applied for, but was not granted, intervention status in the PUC water rate case; and all of us experienced multifold increases in our water bills.

Most recently the CWRM in July of 2021 granted the DHHL’s request to provide 595,000 gpd to the Homelands from the Kualapu’u aquifer, effective immediately.  This is in excess of their current usage and allows them to expand development and usage substantially.  MPL’s request for 1.2 million gpd has not been ruled upon and is still to be decided by the CWRM.  Maui County’s request for 900,000 gpd is also still pending.  The entire contested case has been highly politicized, and the WMA Board believes that water allocations are being used to prevent (control?) development, rather than assessed on an entirely equitable basis.  This attitude prevails despite the fact that there are no real development plans on the West End, and most members came here precisely because they wanted fewer neighbors and tourists.

The State does require a long-term water plan to be developed by each island.  Maui County decided to employ a consulting firm, Townscape, to develop the plan for Molokai, and that is in process right now. The decision to use consultants was based, in part, on recognition of the historical contentiousness of water issues on Molokai.  The WMA, PHA, and some owners have participated in Townscape’s open forums to articulate our needs and perspectives in the plan’s development; other residents on Molokai are expressing their views forcibly in these meetings.  What concerns us are the negative comments in these forums directed at the West End and MPL in particular that are not mindful of our needs and could result in an adverse outcome. For that reason, individual WMA and PHA members should express their views clearly to Townscape’s planners, accessible through the link at the end of this update. 

The fundamental issue is how much water CWRM will grant each requesting entity (MPL, Maui County, DHHL) from the Kualapu’u aquifer.  The requests exceed the supply from this aquifer.  However, overall in Molokai there are 79 million gpd of sustainable supply, according to the CWRM, far in excess of current usage.  To make a larger portion of it available would require drilling an additional well(s) in another aquifer(s) and having an island-wide distribution plan that satisfied all constituents.  This is precisely what the WMA would like to see formulated as the long-term plan. Development issues can be settled before the Molokai Planning Commission and should be separated from the water allocation to existing owners and residents.

Another important issue for the WMA is the lack of any agricultural water for us, despite the zoning of the Papohaku Ranchlands as “agricultural”.  Increasingly the Molokai Planning Commission is demanding a “farm plan” consistent with the zoning.  It is not really possible to develop a feasible plan without agricultural water, given our now exorbitant water rates and the likelihood of a very limited allocation from CWRM.  In addition, reforestation of the West End, necessary for erosion prevention and restoration of normal rainfall on the West End, can only be done with agricultural water.

These issues are crucial for our collective future, for the environment of the West End, and for our being part of the larger community, but are playing out in a long-standing legal and political struggle.  The WMA’s position advocates adequate water for all constituents, placement of new wells in appropriate sustainable aquifers, agricultural water for farm development and reforestation on parts of the West End, and compromise among needlessly divisive advocacy groups.  Ideally, Maui County’s water utility should be providing our water at rates consistent with rates everywhere on the island.

To express your view to the consulting company (Townscape) developing the long range plan, please contact Lillie Makaila (project manager) at Lillie@townscapeinc.com.

To learn more about Townscape’s project, go to: https://waterresources.mauicounty.gov/205/Molokai-Island-Water-Use-Development-Plan