State inventories Na Wai Eha water rights

Legal notices published Wednesday in The Maui News and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser listing people, churches, and commercial and other entities with claims to kuleana water rights in the Na Wai Eha surface water management area are part of a “historic” effort by the state water commission to recognize those appurtenant rights.

“This is the first time in its history that the commission is formally going to permanently recognize kuleana rights,” said Isaac Moriwake, an Earthjustice attorney, Wednesday.

He represented Hui o Na Wai Eha and Maui Tomorrow, which along with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, earlier this month claimed a major victory for appurtenant or kuleana water rights in the Hawaii Supreme Court. Moriwake and his clients got the high court to vacate a state Commission on Water Resource Management decision in a dispute over mauka diversions of the surface water of Na Wai Eha, or the four great waters of Central Maui – Waihee, Waiehu, Waikapu and Iao streams.

Currently, surface water is diverted from the four West Maui Mountain streams for Central Maui sugar cultivation and domestic use, and Native Hawaiian and environmental groups are seeking to have more water returned to streams to revive the natural habitat and to allow for taro cultivation.

The publication of those with claims to kuleana water was not directly related to the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling Aug. 15. However, as part of the process of recognizing kuleana water rights, water commission officials will be estimating how much water was historically used by landowners.

The kuleana water inventory can only help as the state water commission revisits the allocation of Na Wai Eha water, Moriwake said.

“There has been a historical difficulty to have these rights recognized,” he added.