As Kihei floods after light rains, some point finger at overdevelopment

Rampant development has decimated wetlands that used to retain the rain, a longtime Kihei resident says.
Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 9:29 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2023 at 6:39 AM HST

KIHEI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kihei is vulnerable to flooding because of its low-lying and mostly flat location along Maui’s shoreline.

But more and more storm water from Upcountry is making its way through the area to the ocean.

And that’s causing more concern for residents.

“I’ve lived here for 40-plus years. And the first 20 of those, we got a little bit of rain, we were dancing in the streets. And we never had this kind of flooding,” said resident Kelly King.

Maui firefighter critically injured after being sucked into storm drain

Flood watch expanded as heavy rain threat increases

Now, it seems like every few months, Kihei gets flooded.

The community itself got less than 2 inches of rain on Friday. But Upcountry areas, like Kula and Pukalani, got more than 4 inches. And a lot of that water ended up going through Kihei.

King, who’s a former Maui County Council member, said that’s because upslope wetlands have been eaten away by development.

According to King, there used to be 200 acres of wetland above Kihei.

That’s been reduced to only 25 acres.

“Because of years and decades of development, where we’ve developed on the wetlands, we no longer have those wetlands there to absorb this water,” she said.

That water went through the community Friday, rushing through streets and neighborhoods, carving pathways through condos and hotels to the beach.

“Now when we look back and think, what did we do with this development? We’re channeling all the water into a couple of narrow channels that just send all the water flooding down.”

Friday’s flooding was a virtual repeat of what happened last September, when flash flooding coursed through yards, and water filled Trinity Episcopal Church by the Sea.

It happens so often now that the National Weather Service has mapped the paths of water draining through Kihei, and has models that estimate stream flow in those paths.

King is now a member of the Kihei Community Association, and is still pushing for county action to retain more of that water, where it’s needed, in an environmentally friendly manner.

“What you want is biological solutions with a lot of grass and plants that can absorb that water, that can filter out the debris before it gets to the ocean,” she said.

“And that’s what I’m hoping this new administration will go ahead with.”