Water firm seeks status as a utility
Rights to water could be at risk, say some Hawaiian landowners
WAILUKU » A company that diverts stream water in the mountains to distribute in West and South Maui has applied to become a public utility and plans to raise its water rates.
But some Hawaiian landowners oppose Wailuku Water LLC's application before the state Public Utilities Commission, saying their rights to the water are potentially at risk.
"I would hope and believe the commission would be more sensible," said Nalani Smythe, a Hawaiian whose family inherited the lands from a Maui chief.
A public hearing on the company's application is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Maui Waena Intermediate School.
Wailuku Water provides water to a number of users, including the Maui County Department of Water Supply.
Under the proposal, Wailuku Water would become Wailuku Water Distribution LLC and operate as a public utility whose rates would be regulated by the commission.
Wailuku Water President Avery Chumbley said approval of the application would guarantee that the business makes a profit of between 7 and 10 percent.
Chumbley said if it receives commission approval, it plans to raise the rates to 90 cents from 85 cents per 1,000 gallons, adding some $175,000 in revenue.
The firm said it has been losing money and is projected to have a loss of more than $540,000 ending June 2009, according to its application to the commission.
Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake, representing some Hawaiian landowners, said the application has no provision for kuleana landowners who have been receiving free ditch water from Wailuku Water. They are owners of traditional Hawaiian lands who have certain water rights.
He said if Wailuku Water's application is approved, the commission could potentially treat kuleana landowners as ratepayers.
Moriwake said nearly 50 kuleana owners could be affected if the commission approves the application, including owners leasing land to businesses growing taro.
Smythe said her family, which has the land and stream rights in Waikapu tied to descendants of Haa, a child of Hawaiian Chief Kahekili, has never been charged for the water.
Smythe said she felt the Wailuku Water application was premature because a separate state agency is still looking into how much water should be diverted by users from several West Maui Mountain streams.
County Water Director Jeffrey Eng declined to comment and said his department was still studying details of the application.