Worsening water shortage in Upcountry Maui puts Kula Hospital at risk

A water shortage in Upcountry Maui is raising concerns for the area's healthcare facility.
Published: Nov. 9, 2023 at 11:23 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2023 at 6:03 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A dire warning for Upcountry Maui residents: Cut water use by 20% or put Kula Hospital and 80 long-term care patients at risk.

“Unless there is a material amount of rain that occurs within the next 30 days, and/or unless there is an approximately 20% reduction in consumption in that region by early December — which is about two to three weeks from now — it is projected that there will be insufficient water to supply the Kula region,” said Hilton Raethel, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

The Maui Department of Water Supply (DWS) on Wednesday cited low surface water flow, drought conditions and lack of rainfall as reasons for declaring a Stage 2 Water Shortage for upcountry.

Officials are urging consumers to stop using water for non-essential activities like irrigation, watering lawns and washing vehicles because daily water demand is currently exceeding supply by 20%.

If the shortage worsens, community leaders say it would have dire consequences for residents.

Raethel says the hospital’s two 300,000 gallon tanks are running low, and while trucks can bring in water, finding water sources on the island is difficult and costly.

Council Vice-Chair Yuki Lei Sugimura who represents the area says the shortage is especially concerning for residents already traumatized by the wildfires.

“Because of the wildfires and what we experienced and feeling that we need to conserve on our precious water, it feels even worse, I think, based upon what we went through with the devastation of the impacts of what happened on Aug. 8, and not having enough water to put on the fires that we needed to,” Sugimura said.

While residents know to be mindful of water use every summer, Sugimura says this is the worst she’s seen in years.

“We know how to survive if it gets bad, but I hope it never gets that bad,” she said.

Among the County’s mitigation efforts: More water distribution tanks and tapping new sources.

“We do have more source coming up closer to King Kekaulike High School that the state of Hawaii is doing in partnership with us. So that’ll be a future water use that is coming up,” Sugimura said.

“But for today, it’ll just take all of us being more water conscious.”

Community leaders say a backup system will take time and state and county intervention.

“There are alternatives but all of those have stalled. Now there are fresh discussions going on right now to try and alleviate this. The question is, will any of these solutions, whether it’s connecting to alternative water supplies, drilling new wells, doing anything, will any of those happen in the timeline before the Kula region runs short of water,” Raethel said.

The Maui Health System, which runs Kula Hospital and the area’s long term care facility, does have a contingency plan in the worst case scenario, but community leaders agree long term solutions are needed now.