Demonstrators Seek End to Continued Maui Water Diversions
Demonstrators on three islands led chants of “e ola i ka wai, mauka to makai” — water is life, from the mountains to the sea — in separate “Free the Streams” rallies focused on water rights and opposition to Alexander & Baldwin’s continued stream diversions. More than 100 people gathered in Honolulu’s financial district at the company’s headquarters on Bishop Street where an annual shareholders meeting was scheduled to take place.
The rally was one of three held across the state this morning seeking a return of water to streams that have been diverted by the company for sugar operations. The Maui rally was held fronting Alexander & Baldwin’s company office along Puʻunēnē and Kaʻahumanu Avenue in Kahului.
Demonstrators asked A&B to put an end to HB2501, a bill which if passed in its current form, would allow the company to continue a previously authorized disposition of water rights for three years or until its pending application for water rights is resolved, whichever occurs sooner.
Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi, represented the coalition of demonstrators at the shareholders meeting. She said, “We asked Alexander & Baldwin to stop draining our communities of their culture and sustenance for its own corporate profit. Hawaiʻi protects our water resources as a public trust resource for everyone’s benefit, not just the corporations,” she said.
Rally organizers say the draft bill attempts to “circumvent” a Jan. 8, 2016 First Circuit Court ruling contending that continued issuance of temporary permits for East Maui water diversions, is illegal. The court’s ruling is currently on appeal.
“Our stream ecosystems are dying and several generations of Hawaiians have been deprived of the right to farm because A&B has illegally siphoned off the public’s water. This has to stop. It is time for justice to flow,” Townsend said in an organization press release.
Healoha Carmichael, who grew up in rural East Maui also commented saying, “As a child, my grandparents carried me on their back to gather hīhīwai, ʻōpae, and fish from the streams in my community. But now those streams are nothing but dry rocks and weeds because A&B has long taken more than the streams can sustain,” she said.
The residents of Wailuanui and Honopou petitioned the Water Commission in 2001 to require a minimum amount of water in 27 streams in East Maui. A&B announced last week that it would return water to 7 of those streams including: Honopou, Hanehoi (Puolua), Waikamilo, Kualani, Piʻinaʻau, Palauhulu, and Wailuanui (East and West).
Townsend continued saying, “This is not A&B’s water to give, especially in the context of a bill that would allow them to divert stream water without a good reason.”
Also speaking at the rally were Keauhou Mitchell-Aldan of East Maui, Earl Kawaʻa of Molokaʻi, Calvin Hoe of Waiahole on Oʻahu, and Gary Hooser of Kauaʻi. Representatives with the Sierra Club say all of these communities have struggled with what they called, “profit-driven diversions of public trust water resources.”
Hawaiʻi lawmakers are expected to vote on HB2501 on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. If passed, Governor Ige has the option to sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature.