Tensions flare in ongoing battle for Maui water rights

Tensions flare in ongoing battle for Maui water rights
Updated: Oct. 9, 2017 at 10:40 PM HST
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HAIKU, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tempers flared in the latest chapter of the long-standing battle over Maui water rights.

Dozens of people crowded into the Haiku Community Center for final arguments in the contested case hearing before the State Commission on Water Resource Management on Monday night.

The dispute pits taro farmers and environmentalists against Alexander & Baldwin.

"This whole system is not set up to be friendly to the resources or friendly to the little people that live out in East Maui. It's fine to keep the status quo for a corporation that has controlled the majority of the water in East Maui for the last 150 years," said Lucienne de Naie, president of Maui Tomorrow Foundation.

The petition to establish minimum flow standards for 24 East Maui streams diverted by East Maui Irrigation Company, a subsidiary of A&B, originally began in 2001.

The hearing officer's proposed decision involves increased flows for 12 streams, including 6 that would be restored to their undiverted, natural flows. Rick Volner, A&B's general manager of diversified agriculture, said the proposed decision strikes a reasonable balance between competing interests.

"It recognizes the restoration of all taro-feeding streams, provides for significant habitat restoration, supports residents of Upcountry Maui who deal with water restrictions during drought conditions, and allows for new agriculture ventures in Central Maui," he said in a statement.

With the closure of the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar plantation, EMI cut back its diversions of water from 165 million gallons a day to 20 million gallons per day, according to A&B.

Volner said the proposed decision deserves a chance to work.

"We could end up with more taro cultivation, healthier streams, and new agriculture in Central Maui while continuing to support the Upcountry residents and businesses," he added.

Critics, however, aren't convinced.

"It's always very nice to issue these statements that make sweeping generalizations. We know that what's being said is not the truth," said de Naie.

The water commission will now deliberate and release its final decision in about a week.

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