Terrain, expense
clog isle progress
on indoor plumbing

The state ranks near
the bottom in percent
of toilets inside homes

By Craig Gima

When David Kuahiwinui's outdoor toilet fills up, he plants a tree in its spot, digs another pit and moves his outhouse over it.

At night, he says, "you make sure you got a good flashlight and it doesn't go out."

Kuahiwinui, who lives on Hawaiian Home Lands near South Point on the Big Island, has thought about running pipes to the county utility lines to get running water and other services, but he says he can't afford it based on what little money he makes helping on ranches, roofing and other odd jobs.

"To hook up water you gotta be almost rich," he said. "By the time you put water into your house it's going to cost you eight or nine thousand dollars, then you have to pay water."

Kuahiwinui's situation is far from unique on the Big Island, especially in the poor, rural districts of Kau and Puna.

While progress has been made in improving access to indoor plumbing, especially in Southern states like West Virginia, Alabama and Kentucky, the percentage of homes in Hawaii that lack an indoor toilet, shower or hot and cold running water has remained about the same over the past decade.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 2.7 percent -- about 1,450 -- homes on the Big Island lack complete plumbing.

Statewide, 1 percent or about 3,385 housing units lack basic indoor plumbing, according to the census. That puts Hawaii tied with West Virginia at fourth in the nation for states with the worst access to indoor plumbing.

"When you don't have plumbing or nothing, you have to do everything outside," said Kuahiwinui, who says he has lived without plumbing for 15 to 20 years. "You get used to it, but it's still a hard life."

Kuahiwinui's water comes from a rain catchment system. He has to save water from rainy months to last through the summer. When there is not enough rain, he has to buy and haul water in.

Kuahiwinui takes a bath every other day and saves the water from washing dishes to water his vegetable garden. "You can't go and throw all the water away. Water is very precious."

The Big Island, where vast areas of the county do not have water and sewer service, has the highest percentage of residents who lack complete plumbing facilities in the state.

In the Puna community of Eden Roc, 35 percent of the 194 housing units lack complete plumbing and the same percentage of people live below the poverty level.

Farther south, in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates in Kau, where one in four people falls below the poverty level, 17.5 percent of the 1,399 housing units lack complete plumbing.

"It's a shame there isn't more low-cost housing or apartments," said Beverly Byouk, the president of the Ocean View Community Association.

Byouk blames lax county enforcement of building codes that would require homes to have adequate facilities and the lack of county and state help to bring water and sewer services into the community for the problem.

"We have people like that all over Ocean View. Transients put up tarps in the bushes and the sanitation facilities are abominable and I guess the state isn't going to do anything about it until there's a hepatitis outbreak or something," she said.

"It's a dilemma," said county planning director Chris Yuen. "You say to somebody, 'Get out of your house with no plumbing.' OK, then where do they go?"

In 1990, about 4,312, or 1.1 percent, of the homes in Hawaii lacked complete plumbing, according to the census. While in the 2000 census that number declined about 21 percent, other states have seen 50 percent to 70 percent declines, said Don Bogie, director of the Auburn University Montgomery Center for Cultural and Demographic Research.

Byouk said she believes bringing a county water supply to the area would encourage people to get plumbing and create jobs so people could afford to improve their homes.

"Water would really help," she said. "We can't have economic development without water."

Andy Levin, Hawaii County managing director and a former state senator who represented Kau and Puna, said the county got $500,000 from the state Legislature to study whether extending the county system or drilling for water and setting up a new system may help the residents in the Ocean View area.

The cost of building a water system in an area bigger than both the islands of Oahu and Molokai is an issue that has to be addressed as well as who will pay for it, he noted.

"In the bulk of these areas to actually run a water line and run it to the dwellings would cost a lot more money than the people paid for their lots in the first place," Yuen said.

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