WAILUKU, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa has announced plans that could lead to the county purchasing property and infrastructure owned by Wailuku Water Company.
Arakawa asked the county council to approve money to appraise the 8,764 acres of land, along with the ditches that distribute the water.
"In the plantation era -- Wailuku Water Company's predecessor used to be Wailuku Sugar -- built this ditch system, and it was taking the stream flows, draining the streams and rivers in this area dry to feed its sugar plantation," said Isaac Moriwake, an attorney with Earthjustice, which had represented Maui community groups who wanted the stream flow restored in Waihee River, Waiehu Stream, Wailuku Stream and Waikapu Stream.
That was the practice for more than a century, but with the closing of the plantation era, waters that had been diverted for pineapple and sugar can return for everyone's use, according to supporters.
"The long term goal that I think we all want to be able to get to is to be able to return almost all of the waters that we collect and end up using within our islands for the public," said Arakawa.
The proposal is also being seen as a win for native water rights in west and central Maui.
"We have a lot to do, especially to make sure that everyone's rights are protected and respected, especially the needs and interests of the streams and the rights of the kuleana users in particular," said former Earthjustice attorney Kapua Sproat, now with the William S. Richardson School of Law.
The announcement comes just days after the final cane harvest arrived at Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, the last sugar mill in the state. Supporters of the proposal say it signals a shift away from plantation control of the resource.
"It's not longer going to be the plantation sort of owning the infrastructure and trying to call the shots, but it's going to be the county, and the state agency is going to regulate how to allocate the water," said Moriwake.
The county council still must approve Arakawa's budget amendment to appraise the property, and then would approve any further budget amendments for the outright purchase.