East Maui Water

East Maui Water Development Plan

East Maui Water History

emaui-2For approximately 100 years, billions of gallons of East Maui stream waters, originating on publicly owned watershed lands, have been diverted. A series of ditches and tunnels controlled by Alexander and Baldwin (A&B), Inc. carry the water to the cane and pineapple fields of Upcountry & Central Maui. The County Board of Water Supply contracts with A&B for delivery of approximately 5% of this flow to supply water to the Haiku, Makawao and Kula areas.

Most East Maui residents and farmers depend directly upon stream waters for household, traditional gathering and agricultural needs. They question the wisdom of both depleting stream flows through diversion and pumping ground waters in the same region. With s12/18/05s, native stream life and the living plants in the watershed all need underground flows to sustain themselves. East Maui residents are concerned that much of their water will be drained away to new developments in Central and South Maui, leaving them little for their own needs.

Currently, no system exists to supply East Maui “ditch” (stream) water to areas such as Spreckelsville, Central, South or West Maui. All of these area, have many large-scale developments proposed, but the overburdened Iao Aquifer system is unable to realistically meet their water needs. East Maui ground water has long been seen as the next water source for Kihei-Wailea-Ma`alaea development.

What is the East Maui Water Development Plan?

Since the late 1970s, East Maui water sources have been seen as the key to the island’s future development. Since stream water volumes fluctuate, a series of wells were proposed for the East Maui watershed from Maliko Gulch to Kailua. A 36-foot wide pipeline was also proposed to carry the water to central Maui.


East Maui residents challenged this plan as environmentally unsound and potentially harmful to the long-range health of East Maui’s streams and watershed. The capacity of East Maui’s aquifer is not accurately known, and over pumping of groundwater has led to disastrous results worldwide. The legal challenge has forced the County to delay its plans and prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the “East Maui Water Development Plan,” which has been revised to cover 10 wells between Maliko Gulch and the Ulumalu region. The EIS is expected to be released in late 2001

On April 13, 2000 the County Board of Water Supply signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with Alexander and Baldwin, Inc. They agreed, in very broad language, to cooperate on a variety of water development projects, including the East Maui Water Development Plan. The MOU did not specifically mention any future wells in East Maui, referring instead to “the project,” but it did note possible joint construction of a transmission line to the County’s Paia treatment facility from 2 existing Hamakuapoko wells. These wells are part of the legal challenge, but have been used in time of extreme drought

How the County-A&B Water Deal Affects East Maui Water

In the MOU, A&B agreed to increase the amount of water the County could draw from the ditch system (flows permitting) and in return, A&B was to receive “an appropriate allocation of domestic water” to be “mutually agreed upon.” (Translation: A&B can exchange untreated stream water for purified domestic water, guaranteeing to its investors that it will have water for its development projects.)

The MOU also allows A&B to “participate in the East Maui Water Development Plan in exchange for appropriate water allocation .…” (Translation: A&B could fund construction of wells or delivery pipelines from their East Maui properties and connect them to the County system, then A&B would be guaranteed specific amounts of potable water from East Maui for its developments.)

The MOU also acknowledges that the County has an “unmet obligation” — estimated at approximately 1 million gallons per day (gpd) — to provide water to A&B through a 1970s agreement (Central Maui Joint Source Venture-CMJSV). A contract between County water Board and CMJSV promising up to 8.9 million gpd of water to the CMJSV partners was challenged in April of 2001 and was subsequently withdrawn.

Through the CMJSV, A&B and other South Maui developers funded wells and pipelines in the Iao Aquifer system allowing water to be available for Kihei-Makena development. Although it is not directly stated in the MOU, the County may possibly expect to make up for their alleged “water debt” from their previous water development contract with A&B through connecting East Maui water sources to the Central and South Maui delivery systems.

What Happens to East Maui Streams?

emaui-measureThe MOU includes a provision to “develop and implement a stream flow monitoring program” but does not state whether it will include all East Maui streams or only selected sites. The agreement also promises a stream restoration program will be “studied, developed and initiated … as long-term agricultural needs are reduced.” Both of these are needed actions but need specific definitions, funding sources and timelines.Many East Maui residents have testified that underground water sources are all that sustains their streams in times of scarce rain. They oppose plans to take both surface (stream) and ground (well) waters from East Maui while native stream life struggles for survival and local residents lack sufficient flows to maintain taro patches or other agriculture

The County Water department has indicated that 1 million gpd of water may be available to “restore” selected East Maui streams and asked East Maui residents to choose which streams had priority. With over 100 streams diverted, residents sent a clear message: The water belongs in the streams and surrounding communities first. When those needs are met, water can be shared with others.