State’s supreme court rules unanimously against Kauai County in water case

The court ordered the Department of Water to perform another environmental assessment on a water main project.
Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 9:29 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 23, 2022 at 10:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Environmentalists are calling a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling a victory, as justices sided against Kauai County in a dispute over water resources.

In a 54-page opinion issued Friday, the court ruled unanimously that the county’s Department of Water failed to do a thorough environmental assessment for a proposed 18-inch main, which officials said would serve communities from Puhi to Kapaa.

The justices ruled in favor of the group Kia’i Wai ‘o Wai’ale’ale. The group challenged the county’s plan for a 9,000-foot long water pipe that would draw from the East Wailua watershed.

“We didn’t feel they were properly evaluating the environment when they didn’t consider any of the stream source or upslope source of the water,” said group member Bridget Hammerquist.

“We’re putting in a pipeline so we’re only going to consider the environmental impacts within the footprint of the pipeline,” said the group’s attorney Lance Collins, characterizing the county’s action. “Water’s flowing through the pipeline, and it’s gotta come from somewhere and it’s going to go somewhere.”

The high court agreed, saying the department needs to study the line’s broader impacts. For example, how much water would the pipeline take from the environment?

“We don’t know because they didn’t do the analysis,” said Hammerquist. “They didn’t consider the impact to the streams and that’s what the justices had a problem with.”

The court also said the water department was “not candid” in its reason for the project.

“The record is clear that this is part of the Lihue development plan and all of, basically, the development that is slated for the urban core of Kauai,” said Collins.

In a statement issued Friday evening, DOW manager and chief engineer Joe Tait said, “We have received the Court’s judgment late this afternoon regarding their decision to require DOW to perform a new Environmental Assessment and are analyzing Kia’i Wai’s other claims at this time.”

The Department of Water must now prepare a new environmental assessment while a lower court considers whether to halt any work on the project.

Environmentalists called it a warning for future projects.

“It basically tells the government that when you consider projects involving water, you really have to consider both upstream and downstream impacts,” said Collins.