Construction faces delay
due to Maui water woes

KIHEI, Maui >> Homebuilder Doyle Betsill may delay his 96-home project here because of uncertainty about the county's water supply in the central valley.

"If we don't get good news in the next few months, we're going to just have to put them on hold," said Betsill, president of Betsill Brothers Construction Inc. who had hoped to start construction in a little more than a year.

As the county's water supply in Maui's central valley reaches critically low levels, homebuilders are reconsidering their plans for further development in south and central area of the Valley Isle.

Officials say there is enough water to accommodate new water applications now, but that could change in the future and there could be delays in getting new water meters while the state reviews water use.

Real estate industry officials said a drop in new homebuilding will push up prices in central Maui, which already faces a lack of affordable housing in the $200,000-to-$300,000 range.

"We're just out of a lot of housing, period," said Moana Andersen, president of the Maui Board of Realtors.

In the first six months of this year, the median price of a single-family house in central Maui was $322,500, up 17 percent from the same period last year.

Anderson said on Maui, there were only about 50 homes for sale under $400,000 and three times as many above $400,000.

County officials and private builders agree developing most new sources of water could be expensive.

Maui County Water Director George Tengan said he doesn't see a quick solution to finding alternative sources of water for future long-term developments in the central valley.

In the short-term, he said, the county is pursuing the diversion of more water from Iao Stream -- a project that probably will take a year.

Tengan said the long-term solution is to tap sources outside the central valley, including water from East Maui and ocean water through desalinization.

Tengan is expected to discuss options at a Board of Water Supply meeting at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the water department's conference room in Kahului, in light of the county's recent decision to halt taking further reservations for water meters.

The state recently designated the Iao aquifer as a ground water control management area, including South Maui, Paia, Wailuku, Kahului, and Maalaea.

The state Commission on Water Resource Management took over control of the Iao aquifer from the county last month, after the average for June exceeded the caution threshold of 18 million gallons a day, a standard set by the commission last November. The water department, which has a cushion of about 2 million gallons a day remaining before reaching its limit, is continuing to issue water meters to those ready to receive service.

Tengan estimates the amount of water set aside for existing reservations totals 400,000 gallons a day.

Meanwhile, Tengan has asked central Maui users to voluntarily limit their use of water.

Maui Contractors Association official Charles Jencks said he agrees with the county's idea of diverting more water from the Iao Stream.

Jencks said the county should also be changing its approach in pumping the Iao aquifer.

Rather than pumping a lot from a few wells, the county should be pumping less from many wells so the withdrawal has less impact on the aquifer, he said.

Jencks said the county should also be developing more wells.

Betsill said he's optimistic and believes the water shortage could be solved by tapping water once used by sugar companies.

"I don't have the sense that the sky is falling," Betsill said. "If we're going to have affordable housing on Maui, this and many other problems are going to have to be worked on."

County of Maui


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