The cost of water


A private utility supplying water in the Waikoloa area at a rate lower than Hawaii County for more than a year is seeking a 120 percent increase.

Waikoloa Water Co., which does business under the name Hawaii Water Service Co., has filed an application with the state Public Utilities Commission for a 119.73 percent increase to Waikoloa residential water rates from $1.70 to $3.74 per 1,000 gallons consumed. The company is also seeking rate increases for its services at South Kohala resorts.

For water alone, residents could see their consumption charge increase from about $20 to $45 based on a family of five that consumes approximately 12,000 gallons during a month’s time. The rates are only part of a water bill, which also includes various monthly charges, tariffs and fees.

The Hawaii County Department of Water Supply, which is a semi-autonomous agency that operates and maintains water systems with revenues generated through water sales, currently charges $1.80 per 1,000 gallons consumed. A monthly average cost for water consumption only is about $21.60.

Waikoloa Village homeowner Melissa Ozaki contacted West Hawaii Today on Tuesday expressing concerns about the overarching impact the increase could have on a community that she said is composed primarily of workers and retirees. She said her bill, once about $30, will likely hit $70 to $80 per month — if the rate is approved.

“I’m worried about the trickle (down) effect,” Ozaki said, saying the cost of water may hurt residents, resorts and businesses required to water lawns, which could, in turn, cause price increases elsewhere. “Even though we have a golf course and look like a resort community, we’re the workers who live in Waikoloa Village — we are retirees and workers, and we really can’t afford it. It’s a serious concern.”

Residents concerned about the proposed increase can provide the Public Utilities Commission with testimony during a public hearing at 6 tonight at the Waikoloa Elementary School cafeteria. The hearing is being held as part of the commission’s process as it determines whether to approve the application filed Aug. 28 seeking the rate increase, power cost adjustment and revisions to its tariff’s rules.

During the hearing, residents can also provide input on the company’s requests for general rate increases and tariff revisions for South Kohala resorts as well as sewer services. All testimony given is recorded and considered by the commission in rendering its decision.

Hawaii Water Service Co. in 2008 acquired Waikoloa Water Co., Waikoloa Sanitary Sewer Co. and Waikoloa Resort Utilities, which provide water and wastewater services to homes, condos, golf courses and shops at Waikoloa Village and Waikoloa Beach Resort, respectively. In late 2008, Hawaii Water formed Kona Water Service Co., which provides water to the Kukio resort area.

The company, which serves about 2,000 in the village area, has not applied for a rate increase since the acquisition, company General Manager Jim Smith said Tuesday. He said the increases sought are necessary to cover the money the company’s already spent replacing a wastewater treatment plant in Waikoloa Village, upgrading a different plant and drilling a new well and million-gallon tank.

According to the state Department of Health Safe Drinking Water Branch, West Hawaii, in addition to the Hawaii County Department of Water Supply, is served by private water companies including Napuu Water, Kohala Ranch Water Co., Waikii Ranch and Hawaii Water Service Co.

Cost per 1,000 gallons water consumed ranges from $1.70 to $7.03, with Kohala Ranch Water Co. charging the highest rate, according to its 2009 PUC-approved rate sheet. Waikii Ranch charges $4.50 per 1,000 gallons.

West Hawaii Today was unable to obtain rate information for Napuu Water despite messages left with the nonprofit’s board of directors on Tuesday. Walter Puhi, Waikii Ranch manager, was also unable to be reached.

The Department of Hawaiian Homelands is also listed as a supplier, although it purchases water from Kohala Ranch Water Co. and offers it to its homesteaders at the county rate, said James DuPont, DHHL Homestead Services Division West Hawaii District Office. DuPont said it sells water at $1.80 per 1,000 gallons, much lower than the $7.03 per 1,000 gallons it pays to Kohala Ranch Water Co., because of a Hawaiian Homestead Commission Act directive in the late 1990s requiring the entity to provide water to homesteaders at the county rate.

DHHL “absorbs the cost one way or another,” he said, explaining the directive also equates to taxpayer dollars being spent. “Until the county improves or extends the water system, we will be paying for people to get water at the county rate.”

Hawaii County Department of Water Supply spokeswoman Kanani Aton said that agency operates deeded and former plantation-era facilities, which explains why some areas are served only by private companies. County water rates are set by the Board of Water Supply, which is appointed by the mayor.

Some developers opt to deed their water systems to the county, whereas others operate a private venture, she said. Rates, tariffs and any other charges must be approved by the Public Utilities Commission, the state’s utility regulator.

“Private water systems are totally possible as a business venture,” she said, explaining that “if someone wants to become a private purveyor, they are held to the same requirements and mandates, Department of Health and EPA, that we are.”

As for differences in prices between the various private suppliers and county, Aton said it may be because the county has 40,000-plus accounts to absorb the costs of supplying water compared with as few as several hundred.

“Private purveyors would have more challenging systems, so, we would presume, their resources may be limited,” she said.