Posted by Junichi Noumaru on Aug 19, 2019

July 24, 2019

This week's guest speaker was Keith Okamoto, Manager-Chief Engineer of the County of Hawaii Department of Water Supply. Keith is also the most recent past-President of the Hilo Rotary Club.  Keith noted that he was more nervous than usual when giving this presentation due to the fact two of our club members in attendance,  David DeLuz Jr. and Julie Hugo are current members of the Water Board, while Art Taniguchi, also in attendance, is a former Chairperson of the Water Board.

The County of Hawaii Department of Water Supply was made semi-autonomous from the County government in 1949 at a time when the water system had much deferred maintenance and was not in great shape overrall.  Keith noted that around the time it was made semi-autonomous, a community meeting was held and 1,000 or so people showed up to comment, a huge number by today's standards, indicative of the state of the water system at that time.  Semi-autonomy means that the department is self funded and is able to decide between its management and board how to spend its revenues.

Today, the County's water system is comprised of 23 different systems serving 43,000 customers.  The semi-autonomy has allowed the Department to be more customer and solutions focused resulting in its current healthy position relative to other water systems in the State and a far cry from 1949.

Challenges faced by the Department are the always rising costs of electricity, recovering from un-planned failure of specialized equipment when you are on a remote island in the Pacific and balancing supply and demand on an island where the Hilo and Kona sides are much different with respect to supply.  The Department is addressing the stability of electricity costs by entering into PPA agreements with renewable energy providers (Wind, Solar etc).  Unplanned equipment failure can usually be mitigated by enhanced conservation, so it is important for all to keep in mind that it is your responsibility to "use water wisely" particularly if you live in Kona or other areas on the island subject to drought.

Mahalo to Keith, his staff and of course the Water Board for keeping our water supply stable and safe, it is something that is easy to take for granted.