Alive Again: Restoration of Maui Streams

[These stream restoration cases are] about preserving and conserving the resource so that we still have it for decades down the line and for future generations … We live on an island and we have no other source of water other than what we've got right here. And in that sense we in Hawaiʻi are kind of a microcosm of what our entire world is facing towards water scarcity.

—Earthjustice Attorney Isaac Moriwake

After years of essentially being drained dry and left for dead, two legendary streams on the Hawaiian island of Maui— Waiheʻe River and Waiehu Stream—came back to life. Fresh clean water from West Maui's mountains is once again flowing to the sea, breathing life into the plants and animals along the way. Learn more: Restore Stream Flow.

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Listen to an interview with attorneys Isaac Moriwake and Kapua Sproat:


Restoration of Waiheʻe River and Waiehu Stream. Upper diversion on Waihe`e River with the entire flow of the river being diverted. (August 9, 2010)

Water in Hawaiʻi is a public trust resource, protected under the State constitution and Water Code. Plantations diverted many Hawaiian streams to water sugar cane and pineapple fields, drying out and destroying the native life and Hawaiian communities connected with those streams. Now that plantations are in decline, the water can be restored to the native stream it was taken from.

Photo: Earthjustice

Waiheʻe River makai ('seaward') of the first release.

Note the rocks in the foreground: you can see how the water level rose by comparing the darker 'limu line' to the lighter color of the portions of rock that were above the water before the restoration (and some are now completely submerged).

In the background, a Water Commission staffer is measuring the restored stream flow and recorded 7.85 mgd. (August 9, 2010)

Photo: Earthjustice

Release of water from the upper gate, flowing back into Waiheʻe River. (August 9, 2010)

Government agencies, including the Water Commission, have a duty to protect and restore ecological uses, traditional and customary Hawaiian practices, recreation, and scenic values. Hui o Na Wai ʻEha and Maui Tomorrow, represented by Earthjustice, are working before the state Water Commission and in the courts to uphold the public trust, stop wasteful water diversions, and restore the Waiheʻe, North & South Waiehu, ʻIao, and Waikapu Streams, traditionally known as "Na Wai ʻEha" or "The Four Great Waters" of Maui.

Photo: Earthjustice

Restored pool in Waiheʻe Stream, makai ('seaward') of the first release. (August 9, 2010)

Na Wai ʻEha streamflow helps recharge the ground water supply that sustains more than half of Maui's residents and visitors.

Native stream animals, wetlands, estuaries, and nearshore fisheries need a continuous supply of fresh water in order to remain healthy and functional.

Photo: Earthjustice

Lower release of water on Waiheʻe Stream, makai ('seaward') of Spreckels Ditch. (August 9, 2010)

The legal battle over Na Wai ʻEha streamflow dates back to 2004, when Maui community groups Hui o Na Wai ʻEha and Maui Tomorrow Foundation, represented by Earthjustice, petitioned the Hawaiʻi Commission on Water Resource Management to restore the streams.

Photo: Earthjustice

Water flowing back into Waiheʻe stream makai ('seaward') of the second release point. (August 9, 2010)

A lengthy trial followed through 2007 and 2008, and in April 2009, the Commission's Hearings Officer issued a proposed decision to restore about half of the diverted flows to Na Wai ʻEha—a total of 34.5 million gallons a day.

Photo: Earthjustice

Restored stream flowing into Kaehu Bay on the shores of Waiehu. (August 10, 2010)

Photo: Earthjustice

Hui o Na Wai ʻEha President John Duey, observing Waiehu stream flow into the ocean for the first time in six years. (August 10, 2010)

Restoring streamflow means restoring vitality to Na Wai ʻEha and the Native Hawaiian and local communities that depend on The Four Great Waters that nourished Maui long before the sugar industry disrupted their ecological and cultural functions.

As we say in Hawaiʻi, "No be lolo [foolish]: Restore streamflow!"

Photo: Earthjustice

Schoolchildren learning the significance of kalo in the Native Hawaiian culture at the Pellegrino family's Nohoʻana Farm.

The Pellegrinos can plant only two of the twelve ancient kalo patches on their land due to the diversions on Waikapu Stream.

Photo: Earthjustice

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