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Maui watershed purchase could be delayed due to coronavirus cuts

WAILUKU, Hawaii >> A county government’s acquisition of a private water delivery system for Maui’s drinking water may be delayed because of budget cuts resulting from the coronavirus outbreak.

Maui County Water Director Jeff Pearson said his department had allocated $2.5 million to evaluate the Wailuku Water Co. water delivery system in a possible purchase, the Maui News reported Saturday.

The fiscal year 2020-21 budget has yet to be approved by the Maui County Council, but Pearson said the water department’s budget was significantly reduced by cuts related to COVID-19.

Wailuku Water Co. has sought for nearly two decades to sell its water delivery system as a result of business losses, along with nearly 14 square miles of Na Wai Eha watershed land in the West Maui Mountains.

The watershed provides about 70% of Maui’s drinking water.

There is still $9 million in the county’s fiscal year capital improvement projects budget for the possible acquisition. The funding has not yet been authorized for bond and would lapse at the end of the calendar year, Pearson said.

An effort by lawmakers to buoy the county purchase with state and federal funds is also in limbo. Matching measures in the Hawaii Senate and House would earmark funds to buy land in the watershed for conservation.

Democratic Rep. Troy Hashimoto, one of the lawmakers who introduced the House bill, said the legislation remains a priority despite difficulties caused by the coronavirus.

“There is no funding in the current budget for the legacy lands because we’re not sure what that will look like in a few months,” Hashimoto said. “It’s not technically dead, it’s still kind of pending.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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