VIDEO: Compromise on East Maui Water met with mixed emotions

May 26, 2010, 11:12 AM HST · Updated October 22, 10:15 AM
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By Wendy Osher

A decision was reached last night to partially restore stream flows to select waterways in East Maui.  The historic decision was met with mixed emotions and a call for compromise from some who had until last night, been firm in their approach for or against the sugar industry, and demands from sustainable practitioners. 

“You took the whole fight away from one farmer versus another farmer and you put the battle to where it belongs, which is in the rivers,” said longtime cultural advocate Walter Ritte Jr. of Molokai. Photo by Wendy OSHER.

“I thought there was no room for compromise,” said longtime cultural advocate Walter Ritte Jr. of Molokai. “You took the whole fight away from one farmer versus another farmer and you put the battle to where it belongs, which is in the rivers.  You spoke for somebody that could not speak.  So I congratulate you guys,” said Ritte.

While some were satisfied with recommendations made, the decision was quickly met with opposition by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, which appeared on behalf of taro farmers who are fighting for a restoration of water for sustenance and stream life.

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The state Commission on Water Resource Management decided to restore a total of 9.71 million gallons of water per day to 6 out of 19 East Maui streams under consideration.

HC&S General Manager Chris Benjamin expressed concerns over proposed reductions during his testimony on Tuesday.

Company officials expressed worries over economic impacts to its 800 employees if water reduced for sugar cane cultivation.

Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares meantime, advised commissioners against restrictive instream flow standards at the Waikamoi stream in particular, saying the severity of the impact would affect nearly 10,000 Upcountry water users.

The commission decided to restore 1.68 mgd to the Waikamoi stream in the wet season only.  Other streams getting partial restoration include Makapipi, Hanawi, Waiohue and west and East Wailuaiki. The commission decided to keep the 13 remaining East Maui Streams at status quo levels with no changes recommended from current usage.  Commission Chair Laura Thielen explained further mitigation measures that will be imposed.

The initial report from HC&S must be filed with the commission no later than September. The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation has 10 days to file its request in writing for a contested case hearing.

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