Second water audit likely

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KAILUA-KONA — One audit of the North Kona water system isn’t enough, at least not for the county government.

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KAILUA-KONA — One audit of the North Kona water system isn’t enough, at least not for the county government.

Unlike much of the flora in West Hawaii — starved for hydration due to irrigation restrictions — problems continue to sprout up around the region’s water shortage, which has persisted for eight months and counting.

The Hawaii County Water Board’s response was to initiate an audit of its own by way of an ad hoc committee comprised of board members, DWS employees, experts from the private sector and possibly consultants. It hopes to have the action group assembled and set to task by month’s end.

The Hawaii County Council doubled down on that idea Tuesday, voting 9-0 in favor of Resolution 287-17, which calls for a performance audit conducted by the county’s Legislative Auditor.

Councilwoman Karen Eoff, who introduced the bill along with Councilman Dru Kanuha, explained the difference in the two audits.

“The Water Board audit is focused more on technical difficulties and mechanical issues and structural things,” Eoff said. “Dru and I wanted to focus on emergency backup plans.”

A performance audit was the type of audit recommended by Legislative Auditor Bonnie Nims, who actually has the final say in what the audit would look like and whether or not one is even carried out.

When Eoff and Kanuha approached Nims with the idea, she told them the more technical in nature the audit became, the less qualified she and her team would be to handle it in-house at no extra cost to the county. Thus, the proposed audit will likely review what backup plans the Hawaii County Department of Water Supply has set in place and offer suggestions on how to improve or supplement those contingencies.

“The board is doing the short-term, proactive approach (and) dealing with a lot of the issues Kona is facing right now,” Kanuha said. “This is more of a long-term look and how to create a little bit more contingency plans outside of the water department (with) a different entity taking a look at it. … And we thought this would be a good resolution for a proactive approach we could do as a council.”

The resolution still has one more reading, but the council is likely to pass it and send it to Nims for an assessment. She said once a decision is made on whether or not to proceed, the audit would take at least five months to complete. But there is no guarantee of an audit before Nims’ evaluation is complete.

“To maintain our independence, we do a risk assessment and try to fit (the audit) in if we can,” she said. “If we deem it lower risk than some of the other issues, then we may push it off.”

Kanuha, who asked Nims to explain the process to those at the meeting, responded that it is “incumbent” upon the county to move forward with the audit.

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What contingency plans might come from the audit, Eoff couldn’t say precisely. More backup equipment, more redundancies at well sites — anything is a possibility. But, she added, that’s exactly the point.

“(Those ideas) are not really the extent of it,” Eoff said. “There’s a lot of other issues. I don’t know how far it can go.”

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