The state Commission on Water Resource Management has ordered 12.5 million gallons of water per day be restored to the Na Wai Eha streams, about one-third of the water that was being considered for restoration a year ago.
The decision released on Thursday addresses a years-long effort by environmental and Native Hawaiian groups to force former sugar plantations and the County of Maui to put back some of the water being diverted from four streams that run out of the West Maui Mountains to Central Maui.
Under the order:
- Waihee stream would be restored to 10 million gallons per day.
- North Waiehu stream would get 1.6 mgd.
- South Waiehu stream would get 0.9 mgd.
- Iao and Waikapu streams would remain at current levels.
Approximately 60 million to 70 million gallons per day are diverted from Na Wai Eha, or the four waters of the West Maui Mountains. In April 2009, Water commission hearings officer Dr. Lawrence Miike issued a "proposed decision" to restore 34.5 million gallons to the streams.
Throughout the dispute, environmentalists and Native Hawaiian groups have argued that restoring water to the streams is necessary for taro farming and to provide habitat for aquatic life. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar has argued the water is critical for already tenuous sugar farming operations.
By CHRIS HAMILTON, Staff Writer
State Commission on Water Resource Management Chairwoman Laura Thielen on Friday called the panel’s decision last week to put millions of gallons of water a day back into East Maui’s streams "groundbreaking."
For more than 125 years, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. has diverted water from the East Maui watershed for its sugar cane cultivation in Central Maui. Maui County also uses stream water to supply 10,000 customers Upcountry, including farmers and ranchers.
In a statement issued by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which Thielen also heads, she called Tuesday’s 5-1 vote during a Paia meeting "a flexible approach that meets most of the needs of competing water demands."
The commission’s decision also "strongly emphasized responsible management of public trust resources," Thielen said. For the first time, HC&S must monitor and report water in its irrigation system to the state. And Maui County must fix its leaky Waikamoi flume within three years, a process already under way.
"Maui County and HC&S need to make the necessary investments to repair existing infrastructure and to develop responsible and reliable alternative water sources to meet their critical domestic and agricultural water needs," Thielen said.
PAIA — State Commission on Water Resource Management members reached a historic compromise late Tuesday night, returning some water to six East Maui streams, but leaving both sides in the water dispute dissatisfied.
Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar General Manager Chris Benjamin called it "another bite from the apple," noting that the commission’s action came in addition to losing millions of gallons a day in eight other streams in a commission decision two years ago. HC&S also is awaiting a contested case ruling that could mean that Hawaii’s last sugar producer will lose another 34.5 million gallons a day in the Central Maui Na Wai Eha, or four great streams, debate.
The complainants’ attorney, Alan Murakami, of Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., immediately called for — and had recognized — a contested case hearing request the moment the proceedings ended. That means the plaintiffs will seek binding arbitration for another, more favorable result.
The commission voted to restore water to four streams only in the wet season, Waikamoi, West and East Wailuaiki and Waiohue, with 1.68 million gallons per day, 2.46 mgd, 2.39 mdg and 2.07 mdg, respectively. In the dry season, West and East Wailuaiki and Waiohue will get 0.26 mgd, 0.13 mgd and 0.06 mgd, respectively.
WAILUKU – Nearly six months after recommending that Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. restore water to only one of 19 streams in East Maui, staffers for the state Commission on Water Resource Management have changed their minds – at the direction of balance-seeking commissioners in the heated controversy.
If commissioners follow the advice signed off by Deputy Director Ken Kawahara, HC&S will have to return water to a total of 14 of 27 streams in the East Maui watershed. Kawahara’s 64-page staff report advocates that six streams get some of their water back, totaling 10.46 million gallons a day.
The report was issued in time for a meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Paia Community Center, where a number of decisions could be made. It’s a continuation of a meeting held in December when commissioners asked the staff and different sides to come back with more information and new compromises.
Since the public will be given an opportunity to testify and all the sides are asked to give presentations about their own recommendations, two additional meetings are scheduled for June 16 and June 21. The last meetings drew more than 100 speakers a day.
WAILUKU – A U.S. Geological Survey study 4 years in the making and released this week describes the effects of taking millions of gallons of water daily from "the Four Streams" of Na Wai Eha that originate in the West Maui Mountains.
USGS also presented a complex matrix showing the amounts of stream water needed to return to each of the Central Maui streams to revitalize flora, fauna and aquatic life; to recharge the aquifer and to promote taro growing. The report also details the amount of water necessary to resume mauka-to-makai, or mountain-to-ocean stream flow, something not seen for more than a century of stream diversions to irrigate sugar crops.
"The idea is to give people and the commissioners the tools to understand the effects of a decision to divert water and adjust those diversions," said USGS hydrologist Delwyn Oki, who presented the findings of his 176-page report to about 50 people in Maui Economic Opportunity’s classroom Tuesday night.
Attorney for taro farmers calls recommendations ‘ludicrous’
By CHRIS HAMILTON, Staff Writer
POSTED: December 13, 2009
WAILUKU – In what appears to be a blow to East Maui Native Hawaiian taro farmers and environmentalists – and a potential much-needed win for struggling Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. – the state Commission on Water Resource Management staff has recommended that water diverted by HC&S be restored to only one of the 19 streams it uses to irrigate its sugar crop.
The staff findings are only recommendations, but Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorneys said on Saturday that they believe the seven-member commission will rely heavily on the staff assessments and recommendations when it renders its decision, most likely during a public meeting scheduled for Wednesday in Paia.
The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the Paia Community Center with a staff presentation and time for questions from Water Resource Management Commission members, Chairwoman Laura Thielen said on Saturday. Thielen is also director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The public will get a chance to testify beginning at 1 p.m., and Thielen said she expects her fellow commissioners to reach a consensus that evening or the next day, depending on how many people want to speak.
Thielen said she received the 56-page report, signed by Deputy Director Ken Kawahara, last week.
Thielen said she thinks that the staff "did a very good, very thorough job," but she will listen to other commissioners’ questions and public testimony before making a decision on how she will cast her own vote on the issue. She also noted that the Native Hawaiian groups did get more than 12 million gallons of water a day restored to streams in the same watershed last year through an almost identical commission process.
Water panel chair: ‘There’s only hard decisions to make’
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer
POSTED: October 17, 2009
PAIA – A year after a state Commission on Water Resource Management ruling poured more than 12 million gallons of water per day back into eight East Maui streams, the panel is considering a proposal to restore water to 19 other East Maui waterways.
Taro farmers and plantation workers crowded the Paia Community Center on Thursday, each side pleading for enough water to survive. Chairwoman Laura Thielen said the commission is expected to return with its decision in December.
Without enough water available to fully satisfy all the demand, the commission will have to find a balance among traditional, agricultural and residential users that is unlikely to make everybody happy.
"Water issues are very tough issues," Thielen said. "There’s no bad people here; there’s only hard decisions to make."
Lawyers spar over how much water to return to West Maui streams
By HARRY EAGAR, Staff Writer
WAILUKU – About 120 people crowded into Kanda Hall at Iao Congregational Church on Thursday morning for what may be the last big public session in the five-year contested case over the waters of Na Wai Eha.
The five parties to the case each had 30 minutes to make closing arguments and raise exceptions to the draft in-stream flow standards proposed by hearings officer Lawrence Miike, who is also a member of the state Commission on Water Resource Management.
As much as 70 million gallons per day is diverted from the Iao, Waihee, Waikapu and Waiehu streams, and Miike has proposed restoring nearly half that amount to the streams for "mauka-to-makai" stream flow. The commission will now consider the record and issue a decision about how much water to restore.
In recent days, street-side rallies have broken out backing one position or the other. The stakes are big.