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.
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.
Hui o Ko’olaupoko and KEY Project have partnered to host an educational watershed tour to help empower people to become familiar with them and to take actions to improve them.
The tour is from 9 a.m. to noon June 12 at KEY Project, 47-200 Waihe’e Road.
The Waihe’e Watershed walk includes a visit to the wetland at the mouth of Waihe’e Stream, a historic house, lo’i sites in Waihe’e Valley and a hike to a nearby waterfall.
Space is limited and reservations are required; call 381-7202.
Participants should wear long pants, comfortable hiking shoes and sun protection. Bring water, lunch or snack, insect repellant and a camera.