Today, Earthjustice filed a petition with the State Commission on Water Resource Management on behalf of two community groups, Hui o Na Wai `Eha and Maui Tomorrow, seeking to restore water to Waihe`e, North & South Waiehu, `Iao, and Waikapu streams and their tributaries (collectively known as “Na Wai `Eha”). The four streams, located in the Central Wailuku region of Maui, hold historic and ongoing significance as natural and cultural resources, but continue to be drained – often completely dry – by diversion works operated by former plantation interests. The petition invokes the process set forth in the State Water Code for establishing instream flow standards (“IFS”) — which are the minimum amount of water that must flow through a stream to sustain beneficial instream uses such as ecological protection, traditional and customary Native Hawaiian practices, recreation, and scenic values –- and demands that the water currently being hoarded and wasted by former plantation interests be immediately returned to the streams of origin.
“The Water Commission has a public trust duty under the State Constitution and Water Code to protect the health of our streams,” explained Burt Sakata, president of Hui o Na Wai `Eha, who has a small family farm in Waihe`e. “We who live here in Central Maui have watched our stream life diminish. We insist that the Water Commission follow the laws put in place to protect our public trust resources.”
A petition similar to the one filed today began the landmark Waiahole Ditch case on O`ahu –- a battle over the future of water and land use in Hawai’i that was rekindled this week by a Hawai’i Supreme Court decision overturning the Commission for the second time in that case. Maui faces a similar, but even more critical, controversy over water, with demand for unchecked current and future development far outstripping existing water supplies.
“We cannot write blank checks to developers without ensuring that there’s enough water in the bank. Our petition urges the State to reconsider its water and land use management policies in a post-plantation economy. The large-scale closing of plantations presents a historic opportunity for decisionmakers to protect degraded water resources before making new allocations of water. This is necessary to support long neglected public trust uses,” said Earthjustice attorney Kapua Sproat.
For more than a century, much to all of the water from each of the streams of Na Wai `Eha has been taken to support plantation operations. The diversions continue to dry up the streams, even as plantation agriculture and its water uses have declined on Maui. To this day, millions of gallons of stream water from Na Wai `Eha are needlessly diverted and dumped, instead of being restored for public instream uses.
“Hawai’i’s Water Code prohibits waste. If diverted water is no longer being used, then that water should stay in the stream, period. Healthy streams support native ecosystems, near-shore fisheries, groundwater resources, and traditional Hawaiian practices. Our streams are the lifeblood of this ‘aina and the law requires that they be treated as such,” explained Sproat.
Maui Tomorrow spokesperson Ed Lindsey noted that the 1990 Hawai’i Stream Assessment prepared by the Commission determined that all four Maui streams named in the petition were “blue ribbon resources,” meaning that they stood out as the very best in their respective resource areas. Only nine Maui streams received this high rating, and all four streams of Na Wai `Eha were among those nine. “Fourteen years have passed since the Hawai’i Stream Assessment was completed, and plantation lands that used this water are being sold off,” he said. “Now’s the time to restore stream flows and help the `Ïao aquifer regain its health.”
Restoration of streamflows is expected to benefit everyone in the Na Wai `Eha community, which is the center of the population on Maui. Hui o Na Wai `Eha, Maui Tomorrow, and Earthjustice will convene a public meeting within the next month to provide additional information and get input from affected communities. Representatives of Earthjustice and the petitioners will be available at this meeting to answer questions and address any concerns that may arise. Call (808) 579-9802 for more information on the meeting, or to find out how to get a copy of the petition.