‘Questions and angst’ linger over contentious water rights bills

State senators question state agencies on water rights bills.
State senators question state agencies on water rights bills.
Updated: Apr. 2, 2019 at 8:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The bills would extend temporary permits to divert water from streams for seven years.

State senators wondered about the problems that small farmers and ranchers could face if the bills were killed.

“It’s ripping us apart. I tell you this now, I couldn’t sleep last night,” said State Sen. Kurt Fevella.

“Who’s going to challenge a small farmer in Ka’u and why won’t they be able to have an revokable permit,” asked State Sen. Kai Kahele.

State senators grilled the attorney general and state land director who said big and small water users who seek permits are in the same boat.

"Under the court decision, our conclusion is we have to follow the same process for everyone," said Suzanne Case, chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

“I think there’s a lot of questions and angst about -- are we somehow using this process to take water away,” she added.

Last year, large water user, Alexander and Baldwin sold roughly 41,000 acres of former Maui sugar land to Mahi Pono. According to its internal documents, A&B could lose $62 million dollars if it's prohibited from delivering 30 million gallons of water per day.

“The two bills being heard would basically validate and legalize an otherwise illegal sales contract for the sale of state waters,” Summer Sylva of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation said.

Supporters of the bill say it wasn’t specifically written to benefit A&B or Mahi Pono, and that all water permit holders need more time to obtain long terms leases.

Alexander and Baldwin calls the rebate issue a red herring, and does not hinge on this legislation.

It says its rebate with Mahi Pono was to “acknowledge the diminished value of the Central Maui agricultural lands if surface water resources were no longer available for irrigation,” said the company in a statement.

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