Water Restoration Advocates Critical of Kahoma Stream Management

March 20, 2019, 10:26 PM HST · Updated March 21, 8:14 AM
Wendy Osher · 4 Comments
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Water Restoration Advocates Critical of Kahoma Stream Management
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*Update: Stakeholders Take Action to Address Concerns at Kahoma Stream: The Hawai‘i Commission on Water Resource Management has since issued a response concerning low stream flow reported in Kahoma Stream in Maui this week. The information is available at the following LINK.

The stream at Kahoma Valley supports a delicate ecosystem of native species including ʻōʻopu, hihiwai, ʻōpae, and loʻi kalo.  The return of life in the stream took years of work, but those who have been at the heart of restoration efforts are alleging mis-management of the water resource.

Tuesday morning, members of a group that have been farming kalo at the stream said they were alarmed to see the streambed dry with no water flowing.

“You see Kahoma Stream up there… nothing. Bone-dry stream… You have little ponds left over, and pretty much no water,” said Kekai Keahi, a member of the community-based Ka Malu O Kahālāwai who worked for years alongside others to restore mauka-to-makai water flow.

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“Yesterday to see the stream not running at all raised a lot of concerns.  It’s something that we worked on for the last eight or nine years, and then to see it come to an end, and almost go back 130 years–It was a scary time because we know how fragile the stream is,” said Archie Kalepa.

Archie Kalepa, a board member of Ka Malu O Kahālāwai, was among those who participated in the return of kalo farming to the site eight months ago.  According to Kalepa, the streambed sat dormant for more than a century, due to diversions from former sugar cane interests.  That dates back to a time when Pioneer Mill used the water for sugar irrigation.

The state Commission on Water Resource Management adopted in-stream flow standards for Kahoma and Kanahā streams in West Maui last year, aimed at providing mauka-to-makai streamflow for native stream animals and traditional and customary practices.  Restoration efforts on Kahoma Stream began 10 years ago with Kamehameha Schools voluntarily releasing water past its stream diversion deep in Kahoma Valley.

Under the agreement, West Maui Land Co is required to supply 3.49 million gallons per day that must flow in Kahoma Stream below a Kamehameha Schools’ diversion, and is responsible for the maintenance of the intakes and ditch system further up stream.

Keahi, a local educator who has helped to organize workdays in Kahoma said today “This is an environmental disaster. One step forward, 130 years back. It took 8 years for the aquatic life to return and in just one day of mismanagement we have lost almost all 8 years of progress. Private entities managing public resources does not work.”

“Today WMLC and KS failed tremendously by not complying to the in stream flow standards set by the Commission of Water Resource Management last year,” the group said in a press release. Maui Now reached out for comment from both West Maui Land Co and Kamehameha Schools.

Glenn Tremble with West Maui Land Co responded to our request for comment about the stream conditions reported on Tuesday afternoon saying, “We have made no changes to the stream diversion at Kahoma. We have sent personnel to inspect the system.”

Kamehameha Schools also issued a statement in response to our inquiry saying:

“Kamehameha Schools wants water to be flowing through Kahoma Stream and we are currently investigating the reports about the current condition of the stream to gather all the facts and determine next steps to assure that water continues to flow through the stream.  Kamehameha Schools is grateful for community members who care deeply about our precious water resource especially as it relates to the ongoing work of restoration efforts in Kahoma.  For several years, Kamehameha Schools has proactively worked to return water to Kahoma Stream.  Traditional uses of water are important to us in sustaining the practices and cultural identity of our lāhui, and in promoting a healthy habitat of our native aquatic species.”

In a subsequent email communication, representatives with Kamehameha Schools said:

“Water should start flowing back into Kahoma Stream. We learned that there was storm debris that clogged the ditch at a couple of different points. Workers went in this morning and used chainsaws and shovels to remove trees and logs and then flushed out the ditch. Additional measures were taken to assure that water continues to flow.“

Kalepa said that for the last eight years the group has worked diligently to restore water flow. “It is appalling that the people that are left to manage Kahoma stream is not doing their part. The state needs to look at ways to create funding for enforcement, gauging, and accountability. Clearly WMLC should be held accountable.”

Lani Eckart-Dodd a board member of Hui o Nā Wai ‘Ehā commented in a press release saying, “Hui o Na Wai Eha stands in solidarity with Kahoma, with West Maui, with East Maui and all of Hawaiʻi’s streams. What history has proven to us time and time again, is when the management of our streams is left in the hands of private interest, what we can expect is negligence. It is unacceptable for Kahoma Stream to be dry. Not for 100 years. Not for one day. Ola I ka wai. All of our streams should run continuously and in perpetuity. Now is time for enforcement of the IIFSs. This kind of negligence should be met with swift and severe penalty.”

During testimony at the CWRM hearings in November it was recorded that Kahoma is one of the few streams on Maui to have all 5 native ‘ō’opu species.  Stream restoration advocates say that after 130 years of having a dry stream bed, the success of recovery is “remarkable.”

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served nearly 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.

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