When Politics And Water Don’t Mix

It was encouraging to hear that members of Honolulu City Council came to their senses last week and gave up on their desire to take over several critical functions of the Board of Water Supply. This was supposed to happen on the sly, by having the voters amend the City Charter to allow the City and County of Honolulu take oversight control of the board’s budget, which would entail second-guessing much of the financial decision-making that goes on behind closed doors.

They changed their minds and decided it would be better for them to call for an internal audit instead.

It was a good decision. I think what bothers many politicians is that the Board of Water Supply is a semi-autonomous body, so it doesn’t pay a lot of attention to all the political hocus-pocus. It just keeps the water flowing and takes care all the emergencies that occur, seemingly on a regular basis. It would be tough to find a resident of Honolulu who hasn’t been inconvenienced by a water main break, low water pressure or billing problems. It’s hard to imagine how mandating more politics into the operation would make board management work better than it does right now.

It’s pretty obvious we have a lot of good people on the City Council. What also is obvious is that they have a difficult time making decisions. They have so many bosses to listen to.

When it’s all said and done, water is man’s greatest need – a simple fact of nature. Our greatest need is not more debate on how to find more water – rather, it’s where water is going to come from and how it’s going to be distributed to customers and at what cost.

I accidentally sat in on a board meeting once and was amazed at a discussion on the need for a desalinization plant on the Leeward Coast. One “expert” on the council suggested we stop watering all the golf courses on the island to save water. The discussion went on for hours, but no decisions were made.

We have quite a few semi-autonomous boards serving the public, and for the most part they do a good job. The reason is they are professionals and have the training and experience to make difficult decisions about very complicated needs of the public.

It’s probably a good idea to have the majority of the heavy decision-making done by the engineers and leave the politics to candidates seeking elected office.