Today, Earthjustice on behalf of two Maui community groups, Hui o Na Wai `Eha and Maui Meadows Homeowners Association, announced a groundbreaking resolution of litigation over ground water from the `Iao aquifer, the primary source of drinking water for the island of Maui. In return for the groups and the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs (“OHA”) withdrawing their legal challenges to the permit applications of the Maui County Department of Water Supply (“MDWS”) for water from the `Iao aquifer, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa has committed to take the steps necessary to restore flows to streams overlying the aquifer that are currently diverted by former Maui plantation interests.
The streams to be restored under the settlement, also known as Na Wai `Eha (the four great waters), are currently the focus of related litigation by Earthjustice and Maui community groups seeking to set instream flow standards that would provide basic flows necessary to sustain public purposes such as ecological protection and Native Hawaiian taro farming. This restoration is intended as an interim measure only, pending resolution of the flow standards.
The Na Wai `Eha litigation also seeks to end the ongoing illegal waste of diverted flows by former plantation interests, including Wailuku Agribusiness Company Inc. (“WACI”). Even though their uses have declined, the plantations continue to hoard water, contrary to Hawai`i law establishing water as a public trust. Undeterred by this law and the pending litigation, WACI has recently reformed as “Wailuku Water Company.”
In the settlement, Mayor Arakawa has already asked WACI voluntarily to restore sufficient flows to `Iao and Waihe`e Streams to ensure a continuous flow to the ocean, which is necessary to support native stream life. If WACI fails to do so, Mayor Arakawa will submit funding proposals to the County Council and seek acquisition of the watershed land and ditch systems owned by WACI so that the County itself can accomplish this restoration.
“Restoring Maui’s streams is a critical component to preserving our public water resources and to recharging the aquifer,” explained Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa. “I will do everything necessary to ensure that control of this key asset in Maui’s future rests with the people of Maui.”
“Our streams support important public purposes, including helping to recharge our ground water supplies,” said Burt Sakata, president of Hui o Na Wai `Eha and Waihe`e resident. “We’re glad that the community groups, OHA, and the County of Maui can work together to protect our water resources for present and future generations.”
This dispute over the `Iao aquifer began in July 2003, when the state Water Commission, in response to Maui Meadows’ petition, took over management of the `Iao aquifer by designating it a ground water management area. This required all water users, including MDWS, to apply for permits by July 2004. Earthjustice and OHA objected to MDWS’s applications and requested a contested case hearing (administrative trial), which was scheduled to begin in April 2006. Today’s settlement will avoid such litigation, which in the Waiahole Ditch case on O`ahu, stretched on for over a decade without final resolution.
“We are extremely pleased with this truly historic agreement and commend Mayor Arakawa for his initiative and vision,” said Jim Williamson, President of Maui Meadows Homeowners Association. “Of course, much work still needs to be done before water is flowing in our streams and recharging the `Iao aquifer. In the meantime, ground water withdrawals from both the `Iao and Waihe`e aquifers should again be limited to the amounts established by the Water Commission. MDWS must also publicly disclose and proceed with developing alternatives sources while guarding against the unnecessary issuance of water meters.”
“We mahalo everyone who is working to make this interim restoration of our streams a reality, especially Mayor Arakawa,” said Earthjustice attorney Kapua Sproat. “We are pleased that Maui County has taken on this kuleana by committing to malama our public trust resources. We hope that both Wailuku Ag and the State Water Commission will follow Maui County’s lead by supporting and facilitating this interim restoration, and expediting our petitions that have been pending for over a year,” she added.
Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Hawai`i regional office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, Native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawai`i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services.
Hui o Na Wai `Eha is a community-based organization established to promote the conservation and appropriate management of Hawai`i’s natural and cultural resources and the practices that depend on them. Hui members live, work, and play in the areas surrounding Na Wai `Eha, and many are engaged in taro farming.
The Maui Meadows Homeowners Association is a grassroots community organization consisting of homeowners from the Maui Meadows subdivision in KIhei. The association has been active in water and land use issues on Maui for many years and its members and their neighbors rely on the `Iao aquifer to satisfy their water needs.
Photos and B-Roll available upon request