South Maui Waterline Break: A Harbinger?

New waterlines brought rapid growth with little planning to Kihei.

New waterlines brought rapid growth with little planning to the dry coastline of Kihei.

The broken line that cut off water supplies to much of Kihei yesterday might have been a wake-up call. Apparently that 18-inch line is one of two (the other is 36 inches) that supplies this whole coast, and I bet they are still the same lines originally installed in the late ’60s or early ’70s. This could be the beginning of a problem.

I stayed in Kihei on my first trip to this island, when we visited the Charley Young family in Kihei. (Charley was a newspaper colleague of my father.) Kihei in those days was mostly kiawe forest, with the only access by the narrow Kihei Road. The Youngs, and the few other families who lived on the south shore, depended on a tiny pipe (1 inch, if memory serves) for a rather unreliable supply of water.

Plentiful water would change everything for South Maui. Maui’s tourism infrastructure was growing rapidly in the early ’70s—by 1977 there would be a total of 8,397 hotel rooms, just 17 years after ground was broken for Ka`anapali, the first planned resort on Maui. The south coast of Maui had been opened for development by the federally funded 701 Plan of the late 1960s, which set up zoning for the entire coast. Wailea would be the next big resort.

Water Was Key to Kihei

Water was, as usual, the limiting factor. The county dealt with that by entering into a joint venture with Wailea Development Co., Seibu Real Estate Co. of Japan, A&B Properties and Hawaiiana Investment Co. to construct the Central Maui water transmission line. The system would draw excellent water from the aquifer underlying the West Maui Mountains and send it as far south as Makena, watering development along the way .

Unlike Ka`anapali and Wailea, most of Kihei developed without much planning. Condominiums sprouted everywhere, and land investment hui made money as property values soared—all because water was suddenly available, making what had seemed to be useless land desirable. There was a certain amount of resentment elsewhere on the island about South Maui getting all this water while other areas went without water meters.

Today, we still have the problem of a long waiting list for water meters Upcountry. We also have a looming problem of aquifer depletion. That wonderful water collected over millennia under the West Maui Mountains is gradually being siphoned out for fake jungles and waterfalls around the Wailea resorts and along the Kihei shoreline. The aquifer is a lens of fresh water floating over salt water, and the thinner the lens gets, the more mineral content it contains. Someday, we might find ourselves drinking salty water.

Are the Kihei Pipes Starting to Give Out?

The neighborhood where I lived in Wailuku was subdivided in the 1920s, and though I don’t know when the water pipes were put in, I do know they were old and prone to frequent breaks. We could be looking at that sort of future for South Maui’s pipelines, with the recent outage a preview of things to come. As I did in Wailuku, I plan to keep a few jugs of water stashed away, just in case.

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2 thoughts on “South Maui Waterline Break: A Harbinger?

  1. Linda Norrington

    Good advice about stashing some water for outages. The issue about water depletion must be taken seriously and resolved before we compromise the aquifer. Is anyone working on solutions?

    • Lancashire

      Yes, it’s been handy for me a few times. There is a state commission on water resources, and they had set some limits on the draw from the Wailuku aquifer at one point, but I haven’t heard anything about it for a while. I just know we need to conserve. Too many people think of water as an unending resource.

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