Governor Urges Lawmakers to Take Action on Controversial Water Bill

April 18, 2019, 1:53 PM HST · Updated April 19, 6:02 AM
Wendy Osher · 2 Comments
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East Maui waterfall near Hanawi Ditch. PC: Hawai’i DLNR.

Governor David Ige today sent a letter (posted below) to the Senate President and House Speaker, calling on lawmakers to revive a controversial water holdover bill.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee had deferred action on the bill earlier this month. The legislation sought to allow ten consecutive one-year holdovers of water permits.

Advocates of the bill say it would support diversified agriculture following the closure of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company and the sale of 41,000 acres of land to Mahi Pono last year.

Those who have spoken out against the legislation in the past have expressed concern over renewals “without proper consideration and mitigation” of alleged harms to the environment and cultural practices. Opponents have referred to the legislation as the “corporate water theft bill.”

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Earlier this month, Mayor Victorino testified in support of the bill saying the measure not only provides legal access to a vitally important source of surface water for Upcountry Maui, but that it would help realize the dream of revitalized diversified agriculture in Central Maui.

In his letter, Gov. Ige said the bill would allow water to continue to be used for a variety of important state needs, including for agriculture, clean energy production and drinking.

House of Representatives Speaker Scott K. Saiki responded to the governor’s letter with a public statement saying, “The Governor’s statement clarifies some of the practical and legal questions that have been raised surrounding revocable water permits and H.B. 1326. Going forward, we know that the Department of Land and Natural Resources and Attorney General must improve the permit application process. At this point, it is up to the Senate to determine whether to act upon H.B. 1326.”

State Senate President Ronald Kouchi said, “We will continue communicating and working with the governor and the administration on addressing this issue.”

The full text of the Governor’s letter is posted below:

Dear Senate President and House Speaker:

Last week, the Senate considered a bill passed over from the House that would allow water to continue to be used for a variety of important State needs, including for agriculture, clean energy production and drinking. The bill is H.B. No. 1326, H.D. 2.

The public hearings last week generated significant activity from the media, special interest groups and others. In this process, misinformation found its way into the public conversation and antagonism among law makers grew to the point that this important legislative measure was tabled. In response, I asked my administrative director to analyze the implications of not enacting H.B. No. 1326. H.D. 2. Please see the attached memo.

The impact of the proposed legislation is widespread. The law must promote fair water distribution throughout the State of Hawai’i. To this end, the proposed legislation sought to ensure that the law applied consistently to all those who have permits to divert water for farming, ranching, drinking, clean energy production and other important uses.

H.B. No. 1326, H.D. 2 would extend Act 126 for another limited number of years until further progress is made in obtaining permanent water leases. In the absence of an extension of Act 126, both the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of the Attorney General will have the difficult task of navigating a path forward in a challenging legal framework with limited solutions that work for those relying on water distribution.

In the last few days, I personally met with representatives of the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, as well as many farmers and ranchers who came to the Capitol to talk to me and others. All are concerned about the implications of Act 126, although there are different ideas about who should benefit from any extension of time. While some have made their interests known, there are others who have not been included in the conversation but whose interests we must consider.

Water is a critically important issue, and for this reason, there is a lot of emotion tied to decisions about water use. However, it is clear that the law cannot be applied in a discriminatory fashion, that all water permittees and applicants must comply with the law and that the law cannot be specially enforced against some permittees and applicants but not others.

Given the timing and circumstances, H.B. No. 1326 addresses these issues for all impacted users in a fair and comprehensive manner. For this reason, I encourage us to continue the conversation and to discuss facts and how we can all move forward to ensure that our State is able to provide the resources needed to support farming, ranching, clean energy production and access to water for drinking and other important public uses.

Thank you for your cooperation in this effort.

With warmest regards,

David Y. Ige, Governor
State of Hawai’i

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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