VIDEO: Water, Tears Flow After Decade Long Battle at ʻĪao
By Wendy Osher
Leaders on both sides of the contentious battle over water rights in Central Maui, emerged to witness waters flow freely below Kepaniwai Park in ʻĪao Valley on Monday, but more work remains. The water release was made by opening valves at various points along the stream throughout the day under a settlement aimed at restoring mauka to makai water flow.
“It’s been 10 years and four months since we filed a petition on instream flow standards on June 25, 2004. We’ve been fighting this battle since then in a contested case hearing through the supreme court and finally (reached) a settlement with the parties,” said John Duey of Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā as he held back tears during the event, but he said, much more work is still left to be done.
The petition sought the restoration of stream flows at the four waterways known collectively as Na Wai ‘Eha: Waihe‘e River and Waiehu, Wailuku (ʻĪao), and Waikapū Streams. Much of the discussion to date centered around a century-old irrigation ditch system that was designed to divert water to sustain the island’s sugar industry.
The agreement sought to find a balance between offstream water uses, the health of the streams, traditional and customary rights, and water for the public trust.
Kapua Sproat, an attorney for Earthjustice who attended today’s event said, “Water struggles have become a legacy that people pass on to their children. I know that’s certainly been the case in our ʻohana and in many others as well. We’re hopeful that with the return of stream flow to Nā Wai ʻEhā (The Four Waters) that this can be the latest in the ripple that will create a wave that carries forward for many generations yet to come.”
In addition to Hui o Nā Wai ‘Ehā and Earthjustice, other groups involved in the settlement included Maui Tomorrow Foundation and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The groups had been seeking compliance and reached a settlement with Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company and Wailuku Water Company. Other groups involved in the agreement include the Maui County Department of Water Supply, and oversight by the State Commission on Water Resource Management.
“He lā nui no kʻēia. It’s a tremendous day,” said Dr. Kamana‘opono Crabbe, the chief executive officer at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. “This marks not just 10 years of legal battles, but also probably going back even 20 years for the fight for Native Hawaiians to restore the streams from mauka to makai. It involves individuals; it involves families, and communities that are directly impacted by the four great waters of Nā Wai ʻEhā. I think today is one huge step that we’ve made in reconciliation to restore the water at least for now to the major streams.”
Under the agreement, state officials provided updated water flow requirements saying the new agreement establishes interim instream flow standards of 10 million gallons per day for ʻĪao near Kepaniwai Park, 5.0 mgd for ʻĪao at or near the stream mouth, and 2.9 mgd for Waikapū Stream (below the South Waikapū Ditch diversion).
The agreement also maintains the previous restorations of 10 mgd for Waiheʻe River, 1.6 mgd for North Waiehu Stream, and 0.9 mgd for the South Waiehu Streams, according to officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“Today with the restoration of stream flow to ʻĪao is a huge step forward, not just for Hui o Nā Wai ‘Ehā, but for the larger community in Maui County and beyond. Although we’re grateful and excited to have water once again flowing in our stream, there is a ton of work that remains to be done, both here at ʻĪao and in the rest of the streams at Nā Wai ‘Ehā, especially Waikapū to ensure that we have continuous mauka to makai flow to support the whole range of beneficial instream uses necessary to really give life to our water code and state constitution,” said Sproat.
While the state touted the release as “mauka to makai,” there are still two points along the stream—one above Kepaniwai Park, and another at the Spreckels Intake in Happy Valley that hamper stream connectivity, according to those that were involved in the contested case.
“It’s been a long battle, but we’re not done yet. We have another 1,000 feet to go for connectivity,” said Duey who explained that there is still a stretch of stream above today’s release that is being diverted. Back in 2010, two pieces of two, 2 inch aluminum beams were placed across the diversion, but those involved in the contested case considered the beam proposal to be unsatisfactory saying it did not allow enough water to flow over the diversion or allow native species to migrate mauka. “So the battle’s not over, but we do have five miles, so we’ll keep trucking on,” he said.
Following the release, some who visited the Happy Valley area to witness the flow downstream expressed disappointment in the small amount of water that was traveling downhill after another diversion at the Spreckels Ditch controlled by Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company.
Those involved in the contested case said HC&S failed to re-engineer their Spreckels Intake Diversion to ensure that water flows over the diversion for mauka to makai connectivity. According to those on scene, the company asked for 30 more days because they were worried they needed a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“We know that there’s other work to do in the future for other lands and other water pathways, but I think this marks a tremendous moment in our history because the legal groundwork that it laid in the justification of restoration of the water becomes a legal precedent,” said Dr. Crabbe. “As a result of that legal precedence, it will build upon for other cases in other communities like East Maui. We know of a number of situations on Kauaʻi that are going through a very similar situation as well as on Hawaiʻi Island.”
He continued saying, “Coming together today is he lā kupaianaha, a very spectacular day to celebrate–not just for the people, but really for the ʻāina (land). Without the water, our ʻāina cannot live in a healthy environment and ecology. So, it’s a day also for the ʻoʻopu (goby fish), for the hīhīwai (fresh and brackish water snail), the kalo (taro), and all that is abundant in the stream,” said Crabbe, “but it also connects to the kai (ocean), and what it will do to restore the marine life right at the muliwai.”
Wailuku Water Company president Avery Chumbley, who was on hand to release the water at the Kepaniwai location, declined comment today. In an earlier press release issued by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, he said, “Wailuku Water Company supports the instream flow standards for the Nā Wai ‘Ehā Streams agreed to by the parties and adopted by the Commission. These standards are flexible enough to address the variability in stream flows that naturally exist. We look forward to working with the Commission to make this a success story.”