In historic decision, commission OKs restoration of 5 Molokai streams

After a historic decision by the state, water flows to five Molokai streams will be restored for the first time in more than a century.
Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 5:39 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 20, 2022 at 7:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time in more than a century, water flows to five Molokai streams will be restored.

That’s after a historic decision by the Commission on Water Resource Management on Tuesday.

It approved the establishment of five interim in-stream flow standards for the island of Molokai.

The state says these standards will return water back to East Kawela, East Kawela Tributary, West Kawela, Lualohe and Waikolu Streams. The water has been diverted by Molokai Ranch for more than 100 years to its land on the west side of the island.

“They are supposed to restore Kawela Stream now and in six months, the Molokai Ranch folks will come back and present their plan for long-term full restoration of Kawela, so we are very very pleased with that result,” said Mahesh Cleveland, Earthjustice attorney.

Molokai activist Walter Ritte and a group called Molokai No Ka Heke has battled the ranch over water rights for decades.

“This message right now is historic because it’s telling people yes we will shut down rivers if we have to. I don’t think they’ve ever had an opportunity to take down a dam full on,” said Ritte.

In 180 days, Molokai Properties must report back to the Commission with an evaluation of their system and timeline to see if full restoration of East Kawela can be done.

It must also look into whether recycled wastewater is a possibility for non-potable needs.

“What is your perception of your organizations kuleana to the island of Molokai,” asked commissioner Aurora Kagawa-Viviani.

“We agree with the need to recognize the public trust purposes and to support them as well as the reasonable beneficial uses that may be needed for or from a particular water source,” said Cal Chipchase, Molokai Properties attorney.

In a statement, Molokai Properties said:

“MPL’s mountain water system supports Ranch operations and local businesses and residents. Under the Commission’s order, the system may eventually support the Department of Hawaiian Homelands’ Kalamaula Tract. MPL looks forward to the continued opportunity to work with the Commission, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and the Molokai community to achieve a balanced outcome.”

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