Today, in a historic step in water resources management in Hawai`i, Maui County included in its final budget a bold measure to return to public control water presently diverted by a former Maui plantation. Effective July 1, 2007, the County appropriated $7.2 million in direct funding and general obligation bonds to appraise and acquire portions of watersheds and water-related assets owned by Wailuku Water Company ("WWC," formerly Wailuku Agribusiness Company), with the ultimate goal of restoring base flow to three major streams in Central Maui (Waihe`e, Waiehu, and `Iao), while also helping to satisfy Maui County's future water needs.
The budget appropriation follows up on the groundbreaking agreement in December 2005 between Earthjustice, on behalf of Maui community group Hui o Na Wai `Eha, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs ("OHA"), and the Maui County administration, which resolved litigation over ground water from the `Iao aquifer, Maui's primary source of drinking water. In return for the Hui and OHA withdrawing legal challenges to the County's permit applications for `Iao, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa committed to take the steps necessary to restore flows to streams overlying that aquifer that are diverted by former Maui plantation interests, including WWC. One of the promised steps was to introduce the budget requests finalized today.
"It took a lot of interested and dedicated people to make this happen. Community groups raised concerns, the Mayor introduced a budget request, and the County Council expanded on that request to provide the additional funding and direction necessary to protect and restore streams, recharge Maui's principal source of drinking water, and provide a potential alternative to the County's water shortage. Each of the Councilmembers weighed in on this individually, carefully considered the issue, and in the end voted unanimously for this appropriation. We are extremely grateful to have been part of this historic achievement" explained John Duey, Hui o Na Wai `Eha Vice President.
The three streams to be restored are part of Na Wai `Eha (the four great waters), which are the focus of related litigation by Earthjustice to establish instream flow standards that would provide basic flows necessary to sustain public purposes such as ecological protection and Native Hawaiian taro farming. The County's promised restoration is intended as an interim measure, pending the state Water Commission's establishment of adequate standards.
The Na Wai `Eha litigation also seeks to end the ongoing illegal waste of diverted flows by former plantation interests, including WWC (formerly, Wailuku Agribusiness Company Inc.). Even though their water uses have declined significantly, the former plantations continue to bank water, contrary to Hawai`i law establishing water as a public trust.
"With this budget allocation, Maui County is helping to heal environmental and cultural wounds. When water was diverted from streams and lo`i kalo for sugar beginning in the 1850s, economic growth came at the expense of Native Hawaiian culture and practices and the ecosystems of Central Maui on which all residents depend. By working together with us, the Council and Mayor have taken a progressive step to re-shape Maui's future. Now, our culture, our streams and ocean, and our economy can thrive for the benefit of all. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the County's leaders to implement this decision that will benefit us today and for generations to come," said Trustee Haunani Apoliona, Chair of OHA's Board of Trustees. She added that this process "can serve as an example for all policy making on critical public issues affecting Native Hawaiians and all of Hawai'i Nei."
While litigation over water from this area began when streams were first diverted for sugar in the 1800s, this current dispute over the `Iao aquifer began in July 2003, when the state Water Commission took over management of `Iao by designating it a ground water management area. This required all water users, including Maui County, to apply for permits by July 2004. Earthjustice and OHA objected to Maui County's applications and requested a contested case hearing (administrative trial), which was scheduled to begin in April 2006. Instead of engaging in protracted litigation, the parties have focused their collective resources on crafting a solution that will satisfy the community's and the County's needs. Today's budget is a critical step in that process.
"Mahalo piha to everyone who has worked so hard to get us where we are today," said Earthjustice attorney Kapua Sproat. "This would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the County Council, Hui o Na Wai `Eha, OHA, and the Mayor. Maui County's initiative reaffirms that water is a public trust resource for us all, not a mere commodity for the former plantations to hoard. Maui County has sent a clear message that its water future is too important to be dictated by private companies and that this County will have an active hand in protecting its citizens' interests now and into the future."
Kapua Sproat, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436, ext. 16
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