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Thursday, January 25, 2001

Kauai’s water
rates will shoot
to state’s highest

The Water Board reduces
the increase urged for farmers
by the Water Department

By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE -- A two-step rate increase that would boost the typical residential water bill by 68 percent during the next two years has been approved by the Kauai Water Board.

The new rates will make Kauai the Hawaii county with the highest water rate; it was second highest. Kauai's new rates will surpass those on the Big Island even if the Hawaii County Water Board approves rate increases pending before it.

The increase is not the highest in Kauai County's history, however. Water Department records show water rates jumped 134 percent in 1984.

In adopting the new rate schedule yesterday, the Kauai Water Board reduced the increase recommended by the Water Department for farmers, who use only about 4 percent of the county system's water.

For some small farmers, primarily in the Kilauea area, where the old C. Brewer plantation ditch system has fallen into disrepair, the only water available must come from the county.

But the board rejected suggestions from both farmers and environmentalists that so-called "gentlemen's farms" be exempt from the new agricultural rates and forced to pay higher residential rates.

As the rates now stand, residential customers will continue to subsidize both real and gentlemen farmers.

Agricultural subdivisions consisting of multimillion-dollar estates built on former plantation land have been proliferating on Kauai. A bill calling for a moratorium on building homes on farmland was to receive its initial reading at today's County Council meeting.

Last year, Kauai County tightened the definition of farming for property tax purposes to eliminate "gentlemen's farms." The county's 1,300 farms carried on the tax rolls were reduced to 400, according to county records.

The board also ignored claims that the new rate structure continues the practice of placing the burden of paying for new pipelines for new subdivisions on existing residents rather than on the developers building the projects and the new residents buying their homes.

"What you're seeing is the ugly face of development not paying its way," said Charles Trembath. "Assess the amount to the developer before the project is even started."

Under the new rates, the monthly costs for a "typical" family home using 10,000 gallons of water a month would go to $30 a month on July 1 and $39.50 a month on July 1, 2003, from the current $23.50 a month.

Also approved was an adjustment to reflect increases or decreases in the department's electric bills to run its pumps.

The higher rates will fund a $273 million, 20-year program to replace 127 miles of the Water Department's 400 miles of pipe. Kauai County operates 13 separate water systems. Much of the pipe is 60 to 80 years old.

One of the key differences is a change from a flat rate for all Kauai water customers to a sliding scale based on meter size.

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