By Wendy Osher
A petition was delivered to state officials today seeking the designation of Waihe’e groundwater on Maui as a managed resource.
In four days, organizers gathered 179 signatures from Maui residents who say they do not want water exported from Waihe’e.
The petition was born out of a meeting of the Waihe’e Community Association in which a buyer presented their plans for use of a property in Waihe’e that included the bottling of water, and apparent export of the resource.
“My understanding is that this is a hydroponic farmer who went looking for help in financing his farm. To buy the property, he partnered with a business that was going to bottle water,” said Maui resident Karen Chun, who started the petition, calling the plans an “exploitation of resources.”
Testifiers and others in support of the petition have identified the business as a Nobleman Group, an international investment firm that is apparently in negotiations to buy the property in question with the backing of funds from Taiwan.
The petition states that the site contains two wells with a total capacity of 1 million gallons per day. “If they even pump one-fourth that amount it will force the county to back off on their supply or allow the aquifer to become salty,” according to the petition.
“They want to extract about half a million gallons of water per day from that watershed, which is already at capacity… I’m just wondering it’s going to make us all have to curtail water on that side, so these guys can benefit and profit… I don’t think that’s right,” one testifier said.
Chun said that even at lower estimates of 200,000 gallons of water per day, the water extracted would be more than what the population could possibly drink, “which leads to the conclusion that this water will be exported.”
Chun hand-delivered the petition to Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair, William Aila Jr. who was on Maui for two public hearings–one in West Maui at the Lahaina Intermediate School, and another in Wailuku at the Maui Waena Intermediate School.
“Right now we are aware of the situation,” said Aila, when asked about the property.
He said there are several avenues that could be pursued including making a policy determination at the state legislature and passing an ordinance at the county level that says, “Water is important to Hawai’i and should stay in Hawai’i.” Aila said a similar finding could be made by pursuing a case with the state Water Resources Commission.
“Right now, we’re going to go on all of those tracks to try to get something into place because I’m pretty sure everybody in this room who lives here feels the same way,” said Aila–that the water should not be shipped overseas. “It should be here on Maui, used for Maui uses,” said Aila.
The statement drew applause from more than 75 people who showed up for the Lahaina meeting. A similar sentiment was aired at the Wailuku meeting where more than 100 people had showed up to address their concerns on a variety of issues under DLNR jurisdiction.
Acknowledging that hard facts and figures were unavailable, Chun said, “regardless, not one drop of Waihe’e water should leave the island and the only way to ensure that is to designate… If there is a public interest demonstrated saying water exports are not wanted, then DLNR will be empowered to act.”