Maui taro farmers prevail in water dispute with state - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Maui taro farmers prevail in water dispute with state

(Image: Courtesy) (Image: Courtesy)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A dispute over diverting water from Wailuku River landed a Maui taro farming family in hot water.

In 2003, John and Rose Marie Duey put a pipe in the Wailuku River to get water to their taro farm.

The ditch that watered the farm in Iao Valley was blocked, and a former state water commissioner gave them permission to install the pipe, they said.

"He said do not disturb the land or the river. If you can just put a pipe in there and get water then, go ahead," Rose Marie Duey said.

The pipe diverted 26,000 gallons of water a day, and for years presented no problem.

Until Tuesday, when the state Commission on Water Resource Management threatened to fine them $4,500 plus $1,000 a day for future violations if they didn't take out the pipe.

"I'm just a kalo farmer -- $4,500!" Duey said. "I think that should be fined against a large company, but definitely not a small kalo farmer like myself."

After hearing their story, though, the water commission reversed course -- voting unanimously to reject the fine and grant the Dueys a permit for their pipe. They also directed staff to develop an expedited permitting process for traditional farmers.

The decision is good news for the Dueys and other small farmers.

Rose Marie Duey said as a Native Hawaiian she has traditional and customary rights to the water.

But to further protect her rights she has also been trying to get a state permit to access the water for 13 years.

"We just feel the commission can do a lot more than coming after Native Hawaiians and kalo farmers," her daughter, Nani Santos, said.

The debate over water rights has been a longstanding issue on Maui, with big companies diverting water from the river.

"We don't want to see taro farmers feel that they don't have a right to farm when the constitution protects their right to farm," said Marti Townsend, director of The Sierra Club of Hawaii. "They have a priority use over the water."

The Dueys said there are other taro farmers on Maui dealing with insufficient water like they were.

"We should make sure that we follow the permit and application process through the commission," Duey said. "But it shouldn't take the commission fifteen years to respond to our application for a diversion."

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