Battle over water rights once again comes to a head at state Legislature

Updated: Apr. 1, 2019 at 5:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The battle over water rights is once again coming to a head.

On Tuesday, lawmakers will hear a bill that would extend temporary permits for seven years to big water users like Alexander and Baldwin, giving them more time to get water leases.

But environmental groups like the Sierra Club say time’s up and that water should go back to streams.

The Sierra Club says that the measure essentially allows Alexander & Baldwin to continue diverting millions of gallons of water from East Maui streams and get around a court ruling prohibiting the company from using temporary permits to divert the water.

"Our concern is there will be a continued practice of taking an excessive amount of water and interrupting stream flows, interrupting traditional taro farming practices, interrupting the nearshore waters and the native ecosystems that thrive on those," said Marti Townsend, director of Sierra Club of Hawaii.

But Maui Mayor Mike Victorino says it isn’t just A&B that depends on the diverted water.

“It could be catastrophic for the Upcountry residents,” said Victorino.

Similar problems could be felt on other islands.

Randy Cabral, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau and owner of a small farm in Kau, says the extension is necessary to give small ranchers and farmers time to obtain long-term permits.

"If I don't have this water. I'd go out of business. I'd give up my ranch because I cannot afford to haul water every day," said Cabral.

In late December, Mahi Pono bought roughly 41,000 acres of former sugar land from Alexander & Baldwin with a goal of putting Central Maui back into diversified agriculture.

Last year, the water commission ordered the full restoration of flows to 10 Maui streams and downstream farmers say more water should be coming their way.

“My biggest concern is without the water flowing, all the fisheries is going to be down all the limu, all the species of fish that live in the estuary, the kalo farmers,” said limu fisherman Ben Villiarimo.

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