HONOLULU (KHON2) — Maui County council member Yuki Lei Sugimura said a water shortage is nothing surprising for upcountry residents, who almost expect it every summer.

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In the last few years, yards have turned brown and the landscape has become dry.

But, according to Maui County Water Department data, the water shortage is fairly new-ish and it’s been getting worse since 2019.

Historical data shows that in 2009, Maui County issued a drought watch for Upcountry which lasted until October 2013.

In October 2013, Upcountry residents were asked to cut back water usage by 20%, and in September 2014, they were asked to cut back usage by 10%.

Rain continued filling reservoirs favorably until April 2017 when a Stage 1 water shortage was issued which lasted through October. There was no shortage in 2018.

A Stage 1 water shortage would be issued and lifted every year following 2019.

“I think this is the most serious water shortage that I’ve seen in many years,” said Yuki Lei Sugimura, who noted the very low reservoirs while driving up to Kula.

It’s a first stage 2 water shortage for Upcountry residents. Under Stage 2, residents are required to stop using water for irrigation, watering lawns, washing cars and non-essential activities.

The Piiholo reservoir provides water to thousands of Upcountry residents and according to the DWS website, stores up to 50 million gallons and fluctuates daily.

During the first week of November since 2010, the reservoir averaged anywhere from 30 million gallons to completely full.

Between November 1-6, 2023, the reservoir averaged 14 million gallons, which is less than 30 percent of it’s total capacity.

Sugimura said the water director, John Stufflebean, told her more people are watering their yards because of the fire.

“We use about 8 million gallons per day Upcountry and of that, 25 percent goes to Ag land which is 2 million gallons, and we use about 6 million gallons a day,” she said.

“People are watering their yards more because we still have hot spots, if you have hot spots call 911 and get the fire department there but people are watering their yards because of fear of something like that happening again,” Sugimura added.

She said a partnership with the county and state land department is underway for a new water source near King Kekaulike school and an old Haiku consent decree might need to be be-revisited.

She said the consent decree will be a long legal discussion which could take years, but needs to be put on the table as droughts are becoming more common.

The new water source at King Kekaulike could take a few months if the other council members allow for it.

“Water rates might go up and real property tax rates might go up, but we’re at a place in our county where we need to look at everything,” she said.

South Maui and its hotels and resorts are also under a mandatory water conservation and are urged to stop using water for lawns and other non essential activities.

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