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After historic water rights ruling, Maui farmers still waiting for changes

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 6:55 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 1, 2021 at 7:33 PM HST
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WAIKAPU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Several days after a historic ruling on water rights on the Valley Isle, taro farmers want to know – where is their water?

“We need food. We talking about food sustainability,” said Waikapu taro farmer Crystal Smythe.

The Na Wai Eha contested case hearing 400-page final decision and order came out Monday after a 20-year legal battle pitting traditional taro farmers against big agricultural users.

Na Wai Eha, or the “four great waters,” encompasses the Waihee River, Wailuku River, Waiehu Stream, and Waikapu Stream.

The state water commission ruled that taro farmers with traditional and customary rights has priority to water from Na Wai Eha.

The traditional farmers expected Wailuku Water Company to release the water to them. But some are still waiting to see the water flow.

“Other users feel like they have superior rights over our rights,” Smythe said. “Now the document is saying they don’t. They never did. But now it’s saying, yes, you’re right. They never had superior rights. Ok. So now what?”

Smythe, and Hui O Na Wai Eha – a local non-profit that protects the streams and has been working with the traditional taro farmers since the beginning – said the order has major flaws.

“Is it just a nice novel you wrote? Where’s the meat? How do we implement it? How do we enforce what it’s saying? Who has that right? Do I have that right,” said Smythe.

Up the Waikapu Stream, there was a locked gate preventing the water from flowing down to the taro patches Thursday afternoon.

Symthe says the state’s order needs to address enforcement.

“Even though there’s a drought, this is not nature, this is man. Man has put a gate, a lock, a chain,” she said.

Hawaii News Now has been trying to reach Wailuku Water Company for comment since Monday but have not heard back.

Hui O Na Wai Eha issued a statement. Read it in full below:

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