Today, Earthjustice, on behalf of two Maui community groups, Hui o Na Wai `Eha and Maui Tomorrow, submitted a complaint to the state Commission on Water Resource Management reporting that Wailuku Agribusiness Co., Inc. (formerly Wailuku Sugar Company) and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., two former Maui sugar plantations, are wasting millions of gallons of water diverted from the major stream systems in Central Maui: Waihe`e, North & South Waiehu, `Iao, and Waikapu Streams (traditionally known as “Na Wai `Eha” or “The Four Great Waters”). The complaint reveals that, even though the companies have vastly reduced the acreage in cultivation and switched to crops requiring far less water than sugar, they continue to drain the streams dry as they did at the height of sugar cultivation. The complaint includes photographs documenting numerous examples of illegal dumping, indicating that the companies prefer the water go to waste rather than return to the streams of origin.
“This evidence confirms Wailuku Ag’s and HC&S’s dumping of stream water that belongs to the public trust,” said Burt Sakata, president of Hui o Na Wai `Eha, who has a small family farm in Waihe`e. “It highlights what we know is happening statewide, but the former plantations have refused to admit – that they are wasting our water instead of leaving it in the community streams where it belongs.”
Nearly four months ago, the Maui groups filed a petition with the Commission seeking an increase in Na Wai `Eha’s “instream flow standards,” or the minimum flows necessary to sustain beneficial instream uses such as ecological protection, traditional and customary Native Hawaiian practices, recreation, and scenic values. The petition observed that the decline of large-scale sugar operations on Maui justified returning flows to streams and communities deprived of water for nearly a century. In response, Wailuku Agribusiness and HC&S submitted comments categorically denying any waste of water. The evidence in today’s complaint, however, revealed the contrary.
The complaint specifically objected to Wailuku Agribusiness’s and HC&S’s ongoing failure to submit timely reports fully documenting their diversions and actual needs and uses, as required by law. Despite repeated requests by the Water Commission dating back to last year, Wailuku Agribusiness has not provided any information on uses after June 2003, even as it continues to convert hundreds of acres of farmland into urban developments. HC&S has provided no information whatsoever.
“We’re extremely disappointed that decades after the end of the plantation era, the plantations still believe they need not answer to the community,” said Earthjustice attorney Kapua Sproat. “The idea that Wailuku Ag and HC&S can not only commit such waste, but refuse to disclose it, in a time where Maui faces a water crisis and public streams run bone-dry, is an outrage.”
The complaints of dumping parallels those raised in the landmark Waiahole Ditch case on O`ahu, where the ditch operator was dumping water in gulches in Central O`ahu instead of leaving it in Windward O`ahu streams. The community groups in that case, also represented by Earthjustice, succeeded in securing the interim restoration of unused flows pending the ultimate resolution of dispute over the instream flow standards. Today’s petition seeks similar immediate relief for Na Wai `Eha.
“Based on this evidence, we hope the Commission will brook no delay in remedying these violations and launching a full investigation,” Sproat said.
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