Sierra Club: Bill Seeks to “Legitimize the Historic Theft” of Water

February 10, 2016, 2:39 PM HST · Updated February 10, 2:40 PM
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East Maui waterfall. Photo by Wendy Osher.

East Maui waterfall. Photo by Wendy Osher.

The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi is speaking out against a bill that would allow “hold-over” permits for applicants seeking to renew their water rights lease.

The item surfaces as Alexander & Baldwin moves to cease sugar operations later this year and transition into a diversified agriculture model for its Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company plantation on Maui.

The Sierra Club issued a statement today saying it is, “standing up” for the protection of the native ecosystem “and the rights of traditional taro farmers” to public water in streams.

Organization representatives argue that, “For decades, Alexander & Baldwin has diverted public water from streams in East Maui without proper authority, an environmental impact statement, or mitigation for the harm it has caused to Hawaiian farmers and native resources.”

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The organization further argues that SB3001 and HB2501 “propose to legitimize” what it is calling an “historic theft of millions of gallons of public water” in East Maui streams by changing HRS 171 to allow for the holdover permits.

The organization claims this would allow the Department of Land and Natural Resources to “perpetually” renew short-term permits for the use of 33,000 acres of public land “without proper consideration and mitigation of the harms it causes” to unique natural environments and cultural practices.

Language under the bill states:

“Disposition of water rights may be made by lease at public auction as provided in this chapter or by permit for temporary use on a month-to-month basis under those conditions which will best serve the interests of the State and subject to a maximum term of one year and other restrictions under the law; provided that where an application has been made for a lease under this section to continue a previously authorized disposition of water rights, a holdover permit may be authorized for a holdover period until such time as the pending application for the disposition of such water rights is finally resolved, even if such holdover period may exceed one year; provided further that any disposition by lease shall be subject to disapproval by the legislature by two-thirds vote of either the senate or the house of representatives or by majority vote of both in any regular or special session next following the date of disposition; provided further that after a certain land or water use has been authorized by the board subsequent to public hearings and conservation district use application and environmental impact statement approvals, water used in nonpolluting ways, for nonconsumptive purposes because it is returned to the same stream or other body of water from which it was drawn, essentially not affecting the volume and quality of water or biota in the stream or other body of water, may also be leased by the board with the prior approval of the governor and the prior authorization of the legislature by concurrent resolution.”

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The item surfaces for review before the Senate Water, Land and Agriculture Committee during a hearing at 3:30 p.m. today at the State Capitol.

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