Several nonprofit organizations, a state agency and three local counties have been awarded $3.3 million from a state land preservation fund to protect 753 acres on the Big Island, Kauai, Molokai and Oahu.
The money from the Legacy Land Conservation Program will be matched with about $9.5 million from federal, county and private sources to acquire land or protective easements for public benefit.
Seven projects are being financed, including four land purchases totaling 25 acres and three easements covering 728 acres.
Laura Thielen, chairwoman of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, said the fund provides an efficient way to protect land containing important natural, cultural or agricultural value. “By providing these grants as incentive, the state is utilizing mostly private and federal funds to protect these resources,” she said in a statement announcing the awards.
WAIHEE – At its mouth, the Waihee River was only around a foot deep Monday afternoon – but that was good news to Scott Fisher of the Maui Coastal Land Trust.
Fisher was monitoring conditions in the first hours after Wailuku Water Co. restored water to the river, carrying out the terms of an order by the state Commission on Water Resource Management in June that the company return 12.5 million gallons per day to two of the four streams that make up Na Wai Eha.
Fisher said the water in the river was at about the same level it would typically be during the rainy season, and it was noticeably colder than it would normally be on a mid-August day. The water restoration would almost certainly mean healthier plants and animals in Waihee River, he said.
Wailuku Water Co., which diverts the stream for users including Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., had opened some of its diversion gates at Waiehu Stream on Monday as well.
Commission member Dr. Lawrence Miike, who oversaw the contested case hearing, originally recommended that half of Na Wai Eha’s water be returned to all four streams. But the other commissioners did not agree and no water was returned to the Iao and Waikapu streams below their diversion points, while less water than he recommended was returned to Waihee and Waiehu streams.
State Commission on Water Resource Management Director Laura Thielen defended last week’s decision by the water panel to order 12.5 million gallons of water per day – now diverted by ditches for sugar cane irrigation and other uses – back into West Maui Mountain streams.
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She said the commission established groundbreaking requirements for water conservation and called for the development of alternative water sources to streams for users.
"It was a very hard decision to make," said Thielen, who heads the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "It’s not like it was a mathematical equation where there is one right answer. It was somewhat subjective. Maybe no one is 100 percent happy with the decisions, but to me, the important thing is we made the tough decisions."
The commission’s order Thursday to restore 12.5 million gallons to the streams – which will likely be appealed to Hawaii courts – amounted to about a third of the amount proposed by contested hearing officer and commissioner Dr. Lawrence Miike. The environmental and Native Hawaiian groups that had been hoping for more water to be restored called the decision a miscarriage of justice.
[callout]"The fact is we don’t have enough water, and there needs to be better investment in making systems more efficient and finding new water sources," Thielen said.[/callout] "I just felt it was important to make the hard decisions."
The majority members of the commission are forcing people to address the limits on Maui’s water resources, she said, adding that she hopes the panel’s action will inspire more responsible water resource management at the local level. It is time to move on to the tougher, more expensive water sources, such as digging wells and repairing leaks, she said.