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.

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