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.
The state says Wailuku Water Co. and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. will begin releasing water to Waihee River and North and South Waiehu Streams in central Maui next week.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources says the companies next Monday will act to comply with a state water commission order issued in June.
But the move is unlikely to satisfy two Maui groups who want the companies to return more water than the commission ordered.
Hui o Na Wai Eha and Maui Tomorrow appealed the water commission’s ruling in state court last month.
They say they’re being deprived of the water they need to grow taro and restore natural habitat.
WAIKAPU -Taro farmers and environmentalists said Friday that they would appeal a decision by the state Commission on Water Resource Management that ordered just a fraction of the water they hoped to see restored to the Na Wai Eha streams.
Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake, who represented the groups that petitioned for greater stream flow, said legal precedent, the state water code and the Hawaii Constitution were on their side. He said he hoped the 6-year-old case would be resolved in their favor within another two to three years.
"The bottom line is we waited six years to get to this point, and I guarantee it will not take that long to get this resolved in the court system," Moriwake said. "If the law means anything, the court will find that the commission did not follow its public trust responsibilities in this case."
The water commission on Thursday ordered that a minimum of 12.5 million gallons of water per day be allowed to flow in Na Wai Eha streams, about a third of the amount that had been proposed. The decision restored water to only two of the four streams – 10 mgd to the Waihee River, and 2.5 mgd for the Waiehu Stream. Diversions at the remaining Iao and Waikapu streams would remain at existing levels.
Panel: Decision strikes a balance between values, responsibilities
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer
The state Commission on Water Resource Management on Thursday ordered 12.5 million gallons of water per day be allowed to flow in the Na Wai Eha streams in the West Maui Mountains, about one-third of the amount that had been proposed.
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The commission majority said the decision represented a balance between the values and responsibilities the law required them to consider. Chairwoman Laura Thielen said in a statement that even if 100 percent of the water were diverted, it would still not be enough to meet demands.
But contested hearings officer Lawrence Miike, also a commission member, issued a scathing dissenting opinion that accused the water panel’s majority of protecting the interests of private corporations over the public streams.
"By its decision, the majority has failed in its duties under the constitution and the state water code as trustee of the state’s public water resource," Miike wrote.
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.