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DWS needs to be held accountable

December 5, 2017 - 12:05am

We are now approaching the first anniversary of North Kona’s initial well failures. Multiple wells remain out of commission, some having failed more than once. No timeline for completion of repairs exists. Worse, we recently learned the epidemic of unexplained but premature failures has spread to another district. Its residents will not be encouraged by North Kona’s experience.

While Manager/Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto of the Department of Water Supply (DWS) tells us that it will be July of next year before we can expect a report addressing the causes of the multiple malfunctions, we have acquired enough experience over the last 12 months to reach some conclusions on our own:

1. We are poorly served by the DWS. The department acknowledges (see the minutes of its October water board meeting) that it doesn’t know whether its equipment is adequate, and that includes, incidentally, the replacement gear already reinstalled or on order. It doesn’t know if the equipment has adequate power supplied to it. It doesn’t know if its operation and maintenance procedures are appropriate and adequate. Additionally, information has only grudgingly been provided to the public, and what information has been provided has occasionally been overly optimistic, to put it charitably. We cannot rely on what we are told by DWS. And, of course, we remain under mandatory water restrictions.

2. The system by which DWS is supervised is flawed. Mr. Okamoto reports to a nine-member water board, appointed one for each of our island’s nine districts by the mayor with the confirmation of the County Council. North Kona’s appointee is a Mr. William Boswell.

While all members are no doubt public-spirited and well-intended (pun intended), the fact is that the board has apparently been unable to light a fire under Mr. Okamoto or the DWS. Oh, it’s appointed a committee to investigate. But in terms of conveying the community’s urgent need for results, the board has failed.

Further, the board has evidently been unable to impress on Mr. Okamoto his responsibility to inform the public accurately and fairly. How else are we to interpret Mr. Okamoto’s failure to disclose the most recent round of well failures, this just days after having reassured the public that multiple wells would be back up and running in time for the arrival of our Ironman visitors? Did the board not think that important enough to share with us? Either the board needs to demand more, or the county code needs to be amended to place supervisory authority over the DWS and Mr. Okamoto in the hands of an individual or group willing to exercise it.

3. Our county’s leaders — appointed and elected — owe better to North Kona. We can surely agree that among the most basic of county services is providing the population with a safe, adequate and reliable supply of water. But our water supply is neither adequate nor reliable, and that year-long state of affairs is attracting little to no apparent attention from our mayor or the county council.

Though the DWS and Mr. Okamoto report to the water board and not the mayor or council, the board, remember, is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. If the current board is unable or unwilling to hold DWS to account and require prompt improvement, then perhaps resignations might appropriately be requested and replacements appointed. In any event, wouldn’t it be nice to see our elected leaders demanding more?

The residents of North Kona, demonstrating once again our cherished sense of aloha, have been remarkably patient with DWS and its leadership. But isn’t a full year of repeated failure and delay enough? Can we not finally expect some progress, some change, and — above all — some explanations? Please?

Daniel Knox is a resident of Kailua-Kona

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