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.
The next step for the commission will be to reopen the application process for permit holders in the Na Wai Eha water management area, she said. That was put on hold until the commission ended its Na Wai Eha contested case deliberations, which required about six months worth of weekly meetings before commissioners took a final vote, she said.
The commission will now review each of the dozens of Na Wai Eha permit applications, including those from Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. and Wailuku Water Co., she said.
Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel Jane Lovell said the commission reaffirmed the county’s user permits for more than 19 mgd in groundwater in Na Wai Eha. However, the commission still needs to decide whether to grant the county up to 3.2 mgd in surface-water permits from Iao Stream.