The island experienced rapid population growth through 2007, when Kīhei was one of the most rapidly growing towns in the United States. The island attracted many retirees and many others came to provide services to them and to the rapidly increasing number of tourists. Population growth produced its usual strains, including traffic congestion, housing affordability, and access to water.
Most recent years have brought droughts and the Īao aquifer is being drawn from rates above 18 million U.S. gallons (68,000 m3) per day, possibly more than the aquifer can sustain. Recent estimates indicate that the total potential supply of potable water on Maui is around 476 million U.S. gallons (1,800,000 m3) per day, many times greater than any foreseeable demand. Sugar cane cultivation once used over 80% of the island’s water supply (The Water Development Plan of Maui, 1992 – Present?). One pound of refined sugar requires one ton of water to produce. Water for sugar cultivation comes mostly from the streams of East Maui, routed though a network of tunnels and ditches hand dug by Chinese labor in the 19th century. In 2006, the town of Paia successfully petitioned the County against mixing in treated water from wells known to be contaminated with both EDB and DBCP from former pineapple cultivation in the area (Environment Hawaii, 1996). Agricultural companies have been released from all future liability for these chemicals (County of Maui, 1999). In 2009, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and others successfully argued in court that sugar companies should reduce the amount of water they take from four streams.