Dispute Over Stream Flow Continues after Celebratory Release

October 16, 2014, 9:03 AM HST · Updated October 20, 8:49 AM
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Wailuku Water Company president Avery Chumbley (left with purple shirt) oversees the release of 10 mgd of water above Kepaniwai. The release was part of an agreement reached with several environmental groups including Hui O Nā Wai ʻEhā and Earthjustice. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Wailuku Water Company president Avery Chumbley (left with purple shirt) oversees the release of water above Kepaniwai. The release was part of an agreement reached with several environmental groups including Hui O Nā Wai ʻEhā and Earthjustice. Photo 10/13/14 by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

Days after the celebratory release of water at ʻĪao, parties involved in the settlement remain at odds over the amount of water being returned in Wailuku.

Members of the group Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā say that instead of releasing 10 million gallons of water as announced on Monday, a measurement conducted by the state Commission on Water Resource Management shows that just 5.47 million gallons was returned to the stream.

Officials with Wailuku Water Company tell us the restoration is a “task in progress” that takes into account both hydrolics and geology, which “change constantly.”

Wailuku Water Company president Avery Chumbley oversees the release of water above Kepaniwai on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. The release was part of an agreement reached with several environmental groups including Hui O Nā Wai ʻEhā and Earthjustice. Photo 10/13/14 by Wendy Osher.

Wailuku Water Company president Avery Chumbley oversees the release of water above Kepaniwai on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. The release was part of an agreement reached with several environmental groups including Hui O Nā Wai ʻEhā and Earthjustice. Photo 10/13/14 by Wendy Osher.

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In a phone interview with company president Avery Chumbley on Tuesday, he told Maui Now that any time the river is flowing at 10 to 15 mgd for three consecutive days, that the company can take a third of the water for off-stream diversions.

If it falls below 10 mg, he said that under the settlement, the company can take 3.4 mg, which would leave just 6.6 mg in the stream instead of the 10 million that was announced as a celebratory benchmark in a state press release prior to Monday’s water release.

He said that prior to Monday’s water release, there were eight consecutive days when water in the stream was below 15mgd, “which would have already meant there was splitting in the water,” for off-stream usage.

On Tuesday, members of the group Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā said measurements showed just 7 mgd in the stream.

“Many people have asked if these are just kinks in the process that need to be worked out. First of all, Wailuku Water Company had five months to work out the kinks. And secondly, the only thing that Wailuku Water Company is doing to release water in Wailuku/ʻĪao Stream is to just turn a valve.”

Chumbley disputed the claim saying, “It’s not as simple as opening a valve.”  He called the release a “step-by-step process” that entails calibration and gauging with fluctuations on a daily basis.

Spreckels Ditch at around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15. Courtesy photo.

Spreckels Ditch at around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15. Courtesy photo.

While the state touted the release as “mauka to makai,” the group Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā said two areas of the streambed remained dry as of Wednesday morning–one above Kepaniwai Park, and another at the Spreckels Intake in Happy Valley–hampering mauka to makai connectivity, and preventing native species of fish and snails from traveling upstream.

In a statement released by the group, members said, “We are extremely disappointed and continue to be frustrated with the blatant disregard by Wailuku Water Company and HC&S for not upholding the Public Trust and the agreed upon decision signed by all parties including the State Commission on Water Resource Management.”

Rick Volner, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company general manager responded to the report via email on Wednesday saying, “On Monday, with members of the Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā and Commission on Water Resources staff in attendance, HC&S opened up the ʻĪao stream Spreckels Ditch sluice gate  (located near Happy Valley),  in accordance with the Commission staff’s instructions, to release water back into ʻĪao stream in compliance with the settlement agreement.”

In a statement issued by Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā, members said, “HC&S also did not comply to the law and continued to divert 100% of the stream flow at the Spreckels Ditch Diversion Intake at Happy Valley and only releasing a small portion of that flow, while taking the rest through their ditch system and into the Waiʻale Reservoir.”

Volner disputed the claims saying, “All of the water flowed into the stream with no water flowing into the Spreckels Ditch.”

The group Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā has also expressed frustration with diversions at Waikapū, one of four waterways that make up Nā Wai ʻEhā, or the four great waters in Central Maui.

Members of the group said another item of contention is the lack of public access to stream measurements, since the State Water Commission has no permanent measuring gauges.

“How are we the public, residents of Maui, Hui members, concerned citizens, kuleana kalo farmers, and native aquatic habitat going to know if Wailuku Water Company and HC&S are truthful about the released flow. How are we to trust these companies after 152 years of distrust,” the group said in a statement.

The water release on Monday was part of a settlement following a contested case filed by Hui o Nā Wai ‘Ehā, Earthjustice, Maui Tomorrow Foundation and  the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.  The groups reached an agreement with Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company and Wailuku Water Company that set instream flow standards at Waihe‘e River and Waiehu, Wailuku (ʻĪao), and Waikapū Streams.  Other groups involved in the agreement include the Maui County Department of Water Supply, and oversight by the State Commission on Water Resource Management.

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