In a first, president of Maui water company says he’s willing to work with kalo farmers

The farmers, meanwhile, want government to hold him accountable.
Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 7:14 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 19, 2021 at 7:26 PM HST
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WAIKAPU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After a decades-long battle over water on Maui, the president of Wailuku Water Company says he is willing to work with kalo (taro) farmers for better solutions moving forward.

Avery Chumbley admitted to avoiding collaboration in the past because he said the farmers were too confrontational.

“Provided all the parties have a set of rules that we can agree to, and a procedure that works for all of us, we’re happy to do it. Absent that, I don’t think we can get together,” Chumbley said during the state’s Commission on Water Resource Management virtual meeting on Tuesday.

During testimony, frustrated taro farmers said Chumbley was still restricting the stream flow and violating state orders that say they have priority water rights.

“Please commission, when will you bring the hammer down on these deplorable types of acts of corporate water theft?” said Hokuao Pellegrino, president of Hui O Na Wai Eha.

Waikapu taro farmer Emmy Alves said their taro patches are suffering.

“Our lack of water has forced our farm to deteriorate greatly. We used to farm seven large loi patches and provide food for our family, friends and community, and now we’re down to two small patches. We need water immediately,” she said.

Chumbley disputed those allegations, insisting he is complying with the state’s order.

“You felt like you’re fulfilling the obligation to deliver water to this kuleana?” asked Commissioner Neil Hannahs.

“Yes, we are,” Chumbley responded.

After back and forth from the farmers and Chumbley rebuking each other’s claims, the commission said they only have limited power to investigate or enforce. They added that both sides must also cooperate with each other.

“There’s a lot of trust that needs to be established. How that happens? I don’t think it can happen from us on Oahu or on a virtual space. It has to happen on island,” Commissioner Aurora Kagawa-Viviani said.

The farmers said they were always willing to cooperate.

But, how exactly they will move forward from here is still yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Director for Water Resource Management said he was happy to hear there is now an openness from Wailuku Water Company to meet with the farmers moving forward.

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