Na Wai ‘Eha ruling prioritizes sustainability and culture

Maui News
Shane M. Sinenci

After over 20 years of legal proceedings, the Hawaii Commission on Water Resources Management issued a decision and order on June 28 prioritizing sustainable water resource management and Hawaiian culture for Na Wai ‘Eha, which encompasses all waters from Waihee, Waiehu, Wailuku and Waikapu.

The landmark decision establishes the state’s responsibility to uphold the public trust doctrine by prioritizing the ecosystem and cultural practices, including traditional taro farming and other practices.

On July 20, my Agriculture and Public Trust Committee received a presentation on this historic case and the legal battle that the community has tenaciously, yet patiently, fought for more than two decades.

The battle resulted in a decision shifting state policy from “plantation water management” to “balanced water management,” as stated in the water commission’s news release.

“This is a new era of water use and management,” according to the executive summary of the decision and order. “Behavior shaped in times when values were not in balance must give way to more sustainable and just policies and practices.

“This includes optimizing resource storage and efficient delivery, implementing more efficient irrigation and farming techniques, as well as aligning our priorities with the collective good rather than self-interests.”

“This order works to establish a new paradigm for water resource management and collaboration in Na Wai ‘Eha,” said Kamanamaikalani Beamer, who left the water commission following the Na Wai ‘Eha ruling after eight years of service. “We affirmed that kalo cultivation is a traditional and customary right in this region, recognized appurtenant rights to wai (water) and ensured connectivity of streams to enhance biota and ecosystems services.”

The water commission strove to honor past mediated settlements and Supreme Court rulings by establishing stream flows required to offer a higher degree of habitat protection and providing sufficient divertible flow to meet public trust and other reasonable and beneficial uses. It also acknowledges the rights of kanaka maoli and kuleana landowners as superseding all other rights.

The decision and order mandates that 51 percent of available stream flows be allocated to protect in-stream habitat and related benefits, 14 percent for kalo cultivation, 28 percent for beneficial off-stream uses including diversified agriculture, 7 percent for Maui County water uses and just under 1 percent for private domestic use.

Under ancestral Hawaiian water management, the profusion of fresh-flowing water in the streams of Na Wai ‘Eha gave life to an extensive area of wetland kalo cultivation, which supported one of the largest populations on the island.

Throughout the proceedings, cultural experts and community witnesses provided uncontroverted testimony of the system’s decline in productivity over time.

Native Hawaiians’ ability to exercise traditional and customary rights and practices have beem diminished by the lack of freshwater flowing in the streams and into nearshore waters.

Hawaiian cultural use of water is based upon a value system of sustainability and a healthy ecosystem, but inadequate water has undoubtedly had a detrimental impact in these areas, hurting the perpetuation of our culture and people.

The return of water to the streams and connectivity of mauka to makai enhances our entire ecosystem, which will provide an essential foundation for the continuation of Hawaiian cultural practices and way of life.

Hawaiian culture is based on wai. It feeds not only the body, but the spirit. When water is taken, it affects not only the ability of Hawaiians to provide for themselves but also damages the spirit of a people.

This long-awaited decision brings justice for native Hawaiians, setting water free to once again cultivate kalo, which will nourish the Hawaiian spirit and protect the perpetuation of our culture.

While this is a time for celebration, it’s also an opportunity for all decision-makers — including myself, my colleagues on the council and our partners in the county’s executive branch — to recommit to our own responsibilities under the public trust doctrine to ensure the most beneficial uses of our precious water resources.

Maui Nui, like all of Hawaii, is rooted in Hawaiian culture, and when we protect and prioritize our culture and people, we all win. For if we are to put a poi board and pounder in every household, then we will need to grow more kalo.

* Shane M. Sinenci is chair of the council’s Agricultural and Public Trust Committee. He holds the council seat for the East Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

Court Limits A&B East Maui Stream Diversion

Civil Beat
By Chad Blair

A Hawaii judge has ordered Alexander & Baldwin to significantly reduce the amount of water it diverts from East Maui streams for agricultural, domestic and industrial purposes.

Judge Jeffrey Crabtree of Hawaii’s Environmental Courts said in a written order Friday that A&B — a major real estate company in Hawaii — and subsidiary East Maui Irrigation Co. must limit diversion of the water to no more than 25 million gallons per day.

“This should be more than enough water to allow all users the water they require, while hopefully reducing apparent or potential waste,” Crabtree wrote.

A&B did not respond to a request for comment. The Sierra Club of Hawaii, which has long challenged A&B’s state-approved permits to divert the water, called Crabtree’s ruling “a big deal.”

“We are very pleased that the court reviewed all of the evidence and made a thoughtful determination that serves the legitimate water needs of the community and protects the health of these streams,” David Kimo Frankel, attorney for the Sierra Club, said in a press release Monday.

“This is a fair and balanced decision, a true win-win-win all the way around,” he added.

The Land Board authorized A&B to divert up to 45 million gallons daily. The environmental group said that the figure of 25 million gallons more closely matches actual water used based on reports to the Board of Land and Natural Resources. Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the Sierra Club estimated the water use figure of 45 million gallons, and not the BLNR.

Much of the water, the club estimated, was wasted due to system losses, seepage and evaporation.

Crabtree cited the Sierra Club in his ruling, stating that “it was the only party which offered the court concrete and specific options and support for how to modify the defective permits and not leave a vacuum until BLNR conducts a contested case hearing.”

The land board in November authorized A&B and Mahi Pono — a Maui farming business seeking to transform 41,000 acres of A&B’s former sugar cane land into diversified agriculture — to continue diverting water from dozens of streams via EMI. A&B sold the land to Mahi Pono for $262 million in 2018.

Mahi Pono declined to comment.

A Longstanding Issue
The state’s Environment Courts were established by the Legislature in 2014, making Hawaii at the time only the second state after Vermont to have a statewide environmental court.

The courts, according to the state judiciary, have “broad jurisdiction, covering water, forests, streams, beaches, air, and mountains, along with terrestrial and marine life.”

The battle over water rights involves various state agencies, several prominent businesses, conservationists and Native Hawaiian taro farmers in East Maui who need lots of water for the crop. The origins of the water diversion extend back to the plantation era of the 19th century, when sugar was the Hawaiian Kingdom’s top export.

For now, environmentalists and farmers are claiming victory.

“Just as upcountry Maui residents are being asked to conserve water right now, the court recognized that Mahi Pono also must do all that it can to reduce waste in its own water usage,” said Marti Townsend, director for the Sierra Club of Hawaii, in the press release.

Crabtree is the same judge who in April sided with BLNR and Alexander & Baldwin in a case challenging temporary water permits issued in 2018 and 2019, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The judge ruled at that time that the board acted properly when it allowed the diversion of stream water in those permits, “saying Hawaii’s public-trust doctrine imposes a dual mandate on the state to both protect water resources and make maximum reasonable beneficial use of those resources.”

In his latest order, Crabtree made clear that the matter should ultimately be resolved by other parties: “The court repeats its prior statements that it does not want to be in charge of the specifics of east Maui water distribution. That role should be filled by others with more expertise and experience. But the court will not risk a vacuum which causes hardship to those on Maui who rely on the water at issue.”

That ruling was hailed as a victory by the DLNR and A&B.

But the fight over water is not over. The BLNR is expected to take up the matter of A&B’s long-term water permits later this month.

Lucienne de Naie, a resident of Huelo in East Maui, was pleased with Crabtree’s ruling.

“These streams often run dry in sections, putrid puddles breed mosquitoes, old pipes and other debris litter the stream banks, and the native stream species do not have enough water to thrive in,” de Naie was quoted as saying in the press release. “And all of us who live in East Maui rely on this water as well for our own homes and farms in East Maui.”

Long-awaited water allocation for Molokai homesteads approved

Maui News

The state water commission unanimously approved a long-standing request to allocate more than half a million gallons of water per day to supply new and existing uses of Hawaiian homelands on Molokai.

The decision will increase the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ Hoolehua Water System pumping allocation to 595,000 gallons per day.

“This action will allow us to bring water to existing and new homesteaders while maintaining deliveries to critical island services that benefit all residents,” Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman William Aila Jr. said in a news release Wednesday. “We thank the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the many beneficiaries for their supportive testimony. While long-awaited, this effort clears one of the many barriers the department has faced in developing new homestead lots on Molokai.”

In 1993, DHHL filed a water user permit application for half a million gallons of potable water from two wells. Earlier that same year, Molokai Irrigation System, Molokai Ranch and the Maui County Department of Water Supply had filed competing applications for water from the Kualapuu Aquifer System. Until the water commission’s decision on Tuesday, water rights for the aquifer had been in litigation for 30 years, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“The commission previously reserved nearly 3 million gallons per day (2.905 mgd) to DHHL,” Commission on Water Resources Management Deputy Kaleo Manuel said in a news release Wednesday. “Portions of the water approved will be deducted from that reservation.”

DHHL is currently halfway through a two-year, $37 million capital improvement project to upgrade the 80-year-old Hoolehua Water System on Molokai. Work includes installation of a 200,000-gallon storage tank, upgrades to automation systems, a new warehouse and a new emergency generator diesel fuel tank. Other improvements involve new paved roads and fencing, along with the repair and replacement of existing tanks, pumps, transmission mains, laterals, valves and hydrants.

The Hoolehua Water System serves more than 2,400 customers, including about 500 homesteads in Hoolehua-Palaau, Kalamaula and Moomomi. Water from the system also provides service to the post office, schools and the airport.

DHHL asked the commission to approve conditions in its water use permit application to protect traditional and customary rights, including:

• Working to implement community-led efforts to replace invasive species with native species to try to improve the health of the coastal ecosystem.

• Supporting and encouraging efforts to reduce erosion and restore native vegetation in Kalamaula’s mauka areas.

• Making available certain community use designated areas as outdoor classrooms for schoolchildren, particularly for the perpetuation of traditional and customary groundwater dependent practices and resource management.

“The long delay in awarding water to DHHL has caused suffering among homesteaders on Molokai,” homesteader Glenn Teves said. “Yesterday’s vote is a meaningful step towards addressing that history.”

The commission will consider complete water use permit applications from the Maui County Department of Water Supply and Molokai Properties Ltd., aka Molokai Ranch, at a future meeting.

Federal judge orders Maui County to get Clean Water Act permit for wastewater injection wells

Star Advertiser

A federal judge has ruled Maui County must get permits to operate injection wells that environmental groups said are polluting the ocean. –

Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit in 2012 over the injection wells, saying effluent from the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility was entering the the ocean and damaging coral reefs and sea life.

The groups pointed to studies that traced the discharge from two wells to the ocean.

In a ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway sided with the environmental groups and ordered Maui County to “obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act consistent with the analysis established by the Supreme Court,” The Maui News reported.

Maui County officials had refused to settle the case and brought it to the Supreme Court in 2019.

The Supreme Court in April 2020 ruled that injection wells fall under the Clean Water Act.

The county argued that treated wastewater from injection wells did not require permits under the Clean Water Act because the discharge did not go directly into the ocean.

In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court said that the discharge of polluted water in the ground, rather than directly into nearby waterways, does not relieve an industry of complying with the Clean Water Act.

Rain percolates in Kona coffee belt, not so much elsewhere

Hawaii Tribune-Herald
By John Burnett

For much of May, most of Hawaii Island’s rain gauges were measuring near- to below-average amounts of rainfall, as the National Weather Service in Honolulu predicted in its dry season outlook for May through September.

There was one notable exception — the Kona coffee belt, which experiences its wet season in the summer. That said, it was even wetter than usual.

And one coffee belt gauge, Kealakekua, posted its highest May rainfall total on record, 12.86 inches, 240% of its average May rainfall total, and over 3 inches more than the previous May record, 9.76 inches.

“It didn’t just squeak by on the record; it was a significant margin, so it’s pretty notable,” Kevin Kodama, NWS senior service hydrologist, said Thursday. “And it wasn’t just that site. All of the gauges in that area picked up a pretty good amount. You look at the percent of averages, it was all at, above, or just below 200% of average.”

Kealakekua also had the Big Island’s highest one-day rainfall total of 2.28 inches on May 3.

The other three official coffee belt gauges Kodama referred to are: Kainaliu, which registered 10.57 inches, 204% of its May norm; Honaunau, which measure 9.33 inches, or 196% of average; and Waiaha, which had 7.94 inches, 170% of its usual May.

One unofficial leeward gauge, at Holualoa, in upslope North Kona, tallied 14.99 inches.

“May is just getting things started. Actually, the peak doesn’t occur until later,” Kodama said of the summer wet season for leeward slopes. “So it’s pretty early to be ramped up like this. Overall, we’ve had some instability, but they’ve been getting rain, like, everyday — and in decent amounts.”

Not all Kona locations shared in the rainfall bounty, however.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, where tourists on the tarmac are almost always greeted by sunshine, registered just 0.9 inches for the month, 45% of its usual 2 inches. Puuanahulu was even drier at 0.77 inches, just 34% of its May average of 2.25 inches.

Windward monthly totals were mostly in the range of 60% to 100% of average. Glenwood, in the upper Puna rainforest, had the highest monthly total of 13.74 inches, 86% percent of average.

The rain gauge at Hilo International Airport tallied 6.17 inches, just 76% of its May average of 8.12 inches. Due to a wetter-than-average rainy season, however, the airport’s year-to-date total of 69.56 inches is 134% of its average for the year’s first five months, 51.91 inches.

Piihonua, in the foothills above Hilo town, hit double-digit rainfall in May, checking in at 10.78 inches, 80% of its May norm of 13.48 inches. Piihonua also has the distinction of being the first official NWS rain gauge on the Big Island to crack triple digits for the year, with 100.98 inches of rain, 31% above its year-to-date average.

“The trades have been there most of the month but it’s not been super wet. It’s been kind of what we were expecting,” Kodama said. “… The way drought manifests itself on the windward side of the Big Island, windward slopes, anyway, is you’ll get rain every day or almost every day. But it’s just that the amount of rain is lower than what you’d expect normally. And that’s what’s been occurring.”

And while most of East Hawaii has remained green, so far, other parts of the island are slipping into drought conditions. In his last drought statement, dated May 8, Kodama wrote “With the exception of the Kona slopes of the Big Island, leeward areas of the state may see increasing drought conditions during the summer.”

That assessment is borne out in the numbers.

The Waimea Plain gauge received just 0.91 inches for the month, just a third of its usual 2.61 inches, bringing it to 8.8% for the year, just 40% of its norm of 22.08 inches. And Honokaa also got about a third of its normal May rainfall, 2.3 inches, bringing its total for the year to 40.13 inches, almost 20% drier than normal.

“It’s been creeping along in leeward Kohala and up in the Pohakuloa region it’s been drying out,” Kodama said. “I just found out (Thursday) that even the Honokaa area is drying out. Parts of (Hawaii Volcanoes) National Park are getting dry, too — the windward side not so much, but more in the lee of Kilauea volcano it’s been drying out.

Judge may vacate East Maui water diversion permits

Maui News
by Melissa Tanji –

Circuit Court said contested case should have been held before the state land board

Revocable permits granted last year for diverting water from East Maui streams for Mahi Pono’s farming and other uses may be in jeopardy unless a First Circuit Court judge hears a formal request to stay the order.

Saying that “the court does not wish to create unintended consequences or chaos by vacating the permits without knowing the practical consequences of such an order,” First Circuit Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree ordered the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, which granted the permits on Nov. 13, to hold a contested case hearing on the matter “as soon as practicable.”

The BLNR initially denied Sierra Club’s request for a contested case hearing on the permits, but Crabtree said Friday in an interim decision on appeal that the board violated the Sierra Club’s “due process rights” by not holding the hearing and that the club had new information to present regarding the permits.

The orders are the latest developments in the Sierra Club’s appeal against the BLNR, Alexander & Baldwin Inc. and East Maui Irrigation Co.

On Nov. 13, the BLNR approved another round of one-year permits, allowing A&B to divert 45 million gallons of water per day using the East Maui Irrigation system on state lands for Mahi Pono crops this year. A&B co-owns the water diversion system with Mahi Pono.

Water from the East Maui system is also diverted for other users, including the county Department of Water Supply for municipal purposes such as domestic water use.

Crabtree said he is not vacating the revocable permits yet and that “the court reserves jurisdiction to consider any additional requests from the parties on whether or not the court should modify the existing permits, and how, or whether the court should leave the existing permits in place until their current expiration date.”

He added that if “no such further requests” are filed by 4 p.m. June 30 then the revocable permit “shall automatically be vacated.”

“The court’s order means that for the first time, the Board of Land and Natural Resources will be required to make A&B fulfill its burden of proof before receiving any permits to use public resources,” Sierra Club attorney David Kimo Frankel said in a news release Monday. “It also means that the Sierra Club will be given an opportunity to show how much harm the diversion of our streams is causing. A&B cannot justify draining streams dry when most of the water it takes is wasted.”

For more than 150 years, A&B diverted East Maui streams for sugar operations in Central Maui and Upcountry. After the sugar plantation closed down in 2016, some of those stream flows were restored. In June 2018, the state water commission set in-stream flow standards for East Maui streams diverted by A&B through subsidiary East Maui Irrigation Co.

A&B, whose water permits are nontransferable, had been granted one-year revocable permits for more than a decade for sugar operations. The company would not have been allowed to apply for a revocable permit beyond 2019 were it not for the Intermediate Court of Appeals in June of that year overturning a lower court decision in a lawsuit filed by East Maui taro farmers and practitioners against the BLNR, A&B and the County of Maui.

In November, the BLNR unanimously approved the permit. Following Crabtree’s decision, the Sierra Club will have a chance to get a hearing before the board.

“Our East Maui communities who depend upon the dozen streams left out of previous restoration decisions, will finally have a chance to make a case to restore the life-giving waters to our streams and fisheries,” East Maui resident and Sierra Club Maui Group Executive Committee Chairperson Lucienne de Naie said.

Sierra Club Director Marti Townsend added that the court’s decision “does not jeopardize Upcountry users of East Maui water.”

“The Sierra Club has repeatedly committed to ensuring that water continues to flow to domestic users of the water like those in Upcountry,” Townsend said.

Both the county and the state declined to comment on the decision, with Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesperson Dan Dennison saying that the department “cannot comment on pending legal proceedings.”

Maui County spokesperson Brian Perry said that “Mayor (Michael) Victorino has no comment while he’s reviewing the First Circuit order and looking out for the best interests of the people of Maui County.”

A spokeswoman for Mahi Pono also said the company did not “have a statement at this time.” Mahi Pono, which owns half of EMI and purchased 41,000 acres of former sugar cane lands from A&B in 2018, has sought to differentiate itself from its predecessor’s plantation-era water use.

A&B also did not provide a comment by Tuesday evening.

Judge orders new hearing on Maui water permits

Star Advertiser
By Timothy Hurley –

A Circuit Court judge says he’s prepared to revoke Alexander &Baldwin’s annual permit allowing it to divert up to 45 million gallons per day from dozens of streams in East Maui.

Judge Jeffrey Crabtree, in a ruling issued Friday, ordered the Board of Land and Natural Resources to hold a contested case hearing about the revocable permit and said he would cancel it June 30 unless he sees a formal request to stay his order.

The Sierra Club asked the Land Board in November to hold a contested case hearing on Alexander & Baldwin Inc. and East Maui Irrigation’s request to continue using about 33,000 acres of public land and divert 45 million gallons per day from East Maui streams for the year 2021.

The board denied the request and approved the continuation of the permits, prompting an appeal by the Sierra Club.

On Friday the court concluded in an interim decision that the board violated the nonprofit’s due process rights and ordered a contested case hearing as soon as practicable.

“The court’s order means that for the first time, the Board of Land and Natural Resources will be required to make A&B fulfill its burden of proof before receiving any permits to use public resources,” Sierra Club’s attorney David Kimo Frankel said in a statement.

Frankel said the Sierra Club finally will be given an opportunity to show how much harm the diversions are causing the streams.

“A&B cannot justify draining streams dry when most of the water it takes is wasted,” he said.

Asked for comment, BLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said the agency doesn’t comment on legal issues prior to settlement. A spokesperson for Alexander &Baldwin could not be reached Monday.

In his ruling, Crabtree said he didn’t buy arguments from the board that allowing contested case hearings on annual revocable permits could mean requiring such hearings on virtually everything BLNR decides.

Crabtree said new information, issues and developments pertinent to the stream diversions have come up recently and are worthy of a closer look in a contested case hearing.

“Our environmental law system has a goal that the decision-makers will hear from stake-holders before decisions are made, to help decision-makers reach sound policy decisions examined from multiple perspectives,” the judge said in his ruling.

“The new information and issues,” he wrote, “are relevant, and are not insignificant.”

Crabtree is the same judge who in April sided with BLNR and Alexander & Baldwin in a similar case challenging the 2018 and 2019 permits.

Following a three-week trial, Crabtree ruled that the board acted properly when it allowed the diversion of stream water in those permits, saying Hawaii’s public-trust doctrine imposes a dual mandate on the state to both protect water resources and make maximum reasonable beneficial use of those resources.

The parties remain in mediation over the final order.

Sierra Club Director Marti Townsend said the upcoming contested case should provide a full hearing on the issues, including the amount of wasted water in the aging system and the fact that the diversions are making the streams run dry too much of the time, causing immense ecological damage.

“We’re trying to use all remedies available to us to make sure we protect those resources,” she said.

Townsend said the court’s decision will not affect Upcountry Maui users of the stream water. “The Sierra Club has repeatedly committed to ensuring that water continues to flow to domestic users of the water like those in Upcountry,” she said.

Experts warn Hawaii summer drought ‘could be worse than last year’

KHON2
by Jenn Boneza

Less than normal rainfall and higher temperatures may cause severe drought conditions in summer 2021.

Some places are already seeing the impact and experts say it will only get worse.

Hot, sunny days are great while at the beach, but too much sunshine and not enough rain for prolonged periods of time can cause problems — especially for farmers and ranchers.

Be prepared for another dry, hot summer. Weather experts are expecting below average rainfall.

Hawaii is seeing abnormally dry conditions on every island across the state and some Leeward areas are experiencing moderate drought conditions already.

According to NOAA Hydrologist Kevin Kodama, two counties will be hit the hardest.

“Hawaii County and Maui County would have the quickest impacts and probably the most severe impact, especially early on,” Kodama said. “I would anticipate that based on the climate outlook, climate model projections, that it could be worse than last year.”

Rep. Lynn DeCoite (D) who represents Molokai, Lanai and parts of Maui, says she can see it already.

“It’s bad. And we’re in May,” Rep. DeCoite said. “Pastures are drying up.”

Rep. DeCoite, who lives on Molokai, says it is concerning. She does not want a repeat of summer 2020 when hundreds of axis deer were found dead of starvation along roadways due to overpopulation and lack of food.

The Hawaii Cattleman’s Council managing director Nicole Galase says ranchers are already preparing for the worst.

“Ranchers are monitoring so many factors when it comes to their operation,” Galase said. “So if a drought is coming, they are preparing ahead of time.”

If there is not enough forage on the ground, they purchase supplemental feed, which she said can get very expensive.

“On top of making sure that the cattle are fed, another important factor when drought comes up is that the ranchers are always looking ahead to make sure that that they’re grazing down the forage so that there’s not a big fuel load for when those dry seasons come so they can prevent wildfires before they start,” she explained.

According to Agriculture Committee vice chair Rep. Amy Perruso, some farmers are more vulnerable than others.

“Small farmers are the most vulnerable,” Perruso said. “Because in my experience, their margins are the smallest. And they can’t really afford the kinds of losses that might come with drought.”

Consumers will feel it as well.

“You’re going to see prices jump in vegetables, fruits, beef,” Rep. DeCoite explained. “We will be depending upon our imports more highly.”

Water will also be an issue as Hawaii moves into the summer months.

Experts are suggesting the people who rely on water catchment systems for their water to begin conserving now.

“Stop washing your cars and watering your yards, it needs to be used for the crops at this time,” Rep. DeCoite said.

DLNR News Release: Instream Flows Set for Traditional Kalo Farming Communities on Kaua’i and Maui

David Ige, Governor, State of Hawaii

With support of written and virtual testimony from cultural practitioners, lineal descendants, keiki and kupuna on the importance of stream flow to support their livelihood and the ‘āina, the Hawai‘i Commission on Water Resource Management adopted instream flow standards for Wai‘oli Stream, in Halele‘a, North Kaua‘i, and for Honokōhau, Honolua, and Kaluanui Streams in West Maui.

In April 2018, the Wai‘oli Valley Taro Hui suffered considerable damage to their ‘auwai when record-breaking rainfall fell on North Kaua‘i. As the taro farmers worked to repair their ‘auwai with legal and technical support from Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law, they also worked with Commission staff to ensure water from Wai‘oli Stream was being properly managed in consideration of instream and non-instream uses.

On Tuesday, the Commission approved a measurable instream flow standard of 4.0 million gallons per day which is based upon the Native Hawaiian custom of keeping half of the stream’s flow remaining in the stream. Commissioner Dr. Kamanamaikalani Beamer stated that “This is a great example of us working alongside and with a community to help empower and resolve some long-standing issues.”

The Commission also considered instream flow standards for Honokōhau, Honolua, and Kaluanui Streams, the latter being a tributary of Honokōhau Stream, in West Maui. Prior Commission actions approved the abandonment of irrigation system diversions on Honolua and Kaluanui Streams by Maui Land and Pineapple Company (MLP), resulting in the Commission approving of natural streamflow conditions to serve as the instream flow standard (IIFS).

For Honokōhau Stream, the Commission approved a two-phase approach which will establish a Phase One IIFS of 8.6 million gallons per day within 120 days, allowing MLP to make the necessary system improvements. The restored streamflow is expected to meet the existing needs of taro farmers in Honokōhau Valley, while also protecting aquatic life, recreation, and domestic uses on Honokōhau Stream.

The Commission also approved a water reservation by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for 2.0 million gallons from Honokōhau Stream. Upon implementation of DHHL’s Regional Plan, the Phase Two IIFS will be initiated and water from Honokōhau Stream will be mixed with R1 recycled wastewater to meet non-potable water demands for agriculture and communal areas in DHHL’s planned West Maui developments. The resulting IIFS would then vary based on half the available streamflow in Honokōhau Stream.

Following these decisions, Commission Chair Suzanne Case said, “We truly appreciate the efforts of community members, including private water users and other government agencies, in working collaboratively with our staff in seeking balanced solutions to sharing our limited water resources. Working closely with the Wai‘oli Valley Taro Hui resulted in a decision for Wai‘oli Stream that will maintain taro farming there for generations to come, while the West Maui decision represents a win-win solution for the protection of traditional Hawaiian practices and protection of instream uses in Honokōhau Valley while meeting the needs of MLP, DHHL, and the County of Maui.”