Maui water rights deal praised as step toward resolving years-long dispute

Updated: Nov. 19, 2019 at 5:49 PM HST
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WAILUKU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After a decades-long battle over public water rights in Central Maui, there’s finally an agreement over stream flows.

For years, kalo farmers and kuleana landowners have fought for more water ― especially after the demise of the island’s sugar industry.

The decades long battle was over control of Waihee River, Waiehu Stream, Wailuku River, and Waikapu Stream in Central Maui.

The settlement details were announced at a meeting of the state Commission on Water Resource Management in Wailuku.

Mahi Pono, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and a community group of taro farmers and kuleana landowners, Hui o Na Wai Eha, agreed on Mahi Pono’s surface water use permit application and presented it to the commission.

“It can only be used for agricultural purposes," Shan Tsutui, senior vice president of operations for Mahi Pono.

“This is a clear affirmation of Mahi Pono’s commitment to agriculture, which hopefully lays to rest the unsubstantiated fear that Mahi Pono was going to use water for future development.”

“We truly believe that this stipulation agreement is a win on all fronts. It restores additional stream flow while also facilitating Mahi Pono’s ability to farm fresh, local, and GMO free food for the Maui community,” he added.

As part of the settlement, Mahi Pono says it’s accepting more than 11 million gallons per day, which is significantly less than the 36 million gallons per day requested by HC&S in its permit.

The company will also bypass the Waiale Reservoir and it will close the low-flow intake for the Spreckles Ditch on the Wailuku River.

Last year, Mahi Pono bought roughly 41,000 acres of former sugar land from Alexander and Baldwin. For decades, HC&S ― as part of A&B ― diverted millions gallons of water each day from Na Wai Eha streams to its cane fields.

"Is an important step forward from the sugar plantation era to hopefully a new chapter for water resources stewardship on Maui," said Isaac Moriwake, managing attorney for Earthjustice.

The settlement “provides concrete commitments, transparency and accountability by Mahi Pono, which will be the largest single user of Na Wai Eha stream flows,” he added.

Hokuau Pellegrino, Hui o Na Wai Eha board of directors president, said “it is our hope that our community is transitioning from plantation era agriculture, politics, and rhetoric.”

The Commission still needs to make a final decision.

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