Mahi Pono Needs Water, But Isnʻt Sure How Much
During a contested case hearing that drew a decent audience at the UH Maui College earlier this evening, Mahi Pono representatives said they are unsure of how many gallons of water they will need to divert from Wailuku rivers.
The Maui farming company is seeking to take over an unresolved Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company request to divert over 30 million gallons of water daily.
Just last week, Mahi Pono planted its first round of crops on 40 acres of the 3,700 it designated for diversified agriculture. Lawmakers touted the event as the start of the “re-greening” of Mauiʻs central plain.
The company acquired its 41,000 acres in Central Maui from HC&S last year.
“Sugar cane is extremely thirsty in terms of the amount of water they use per acre. I donʻt believe our water needs are as great,” Mahi Pono attorney Benjamin Kudo said.
Kudo estimated that Mahi Ponoʻs crops would need somewhere between 15 to 30 million gallons per day, turning to operations manager Grant Nakama for consultation.
When state water commission member Wayne Katayama asked for a “ballpark” figure, Nakama stated that he could not provide a number with certainty.
“If I had to ballpark it, Iʻm not going to guess actually. For us I think it falls between those two numbers,” Nakama replied.
During the hearing, commissioner Kamana Beamer asked Mahi Pono leadership to “think really hard” if they needed that amount of water.
“If I was imagining a healthy community with diversified agriculture, I would seriously consider the decision to try to think about reopening the issue, given the history of this case and the urgency to deliver a decision,” Beamer advised.
For Mikiʻala Puaʻa-Freitas, whose father applied for a water use permit for their kalo farm in Waiheʻe over a decade ago, that decision seems like something she can only hope for.
“We follow these litigation proceedings to no avail,” Puaʻa-Freitas said after the hearing.
If approved, Mahi Ponoʻs petition could delay water for the Puaʻa-Freitas family and about 50 other applicants.
But Puaʻa-Freitas said that she, and many other members of the Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā, still support Mahi Ponoʻs new ownership of the land.
“Unfortunately Mahi Pono jumped into this game years later, but we just want this to be settled and done,” Puaʻa-Freitas said.
Kudo acknowledged the other partysʻ frustration over the wait for a decision on the case, which was nearing an end when Mahi Pono filed its petition.
“We apologize in advance that they have been going through many years of this contested case proceeding,” Kudo said.
However, Kudo added that Mahi Pono does not intend to prolong the process any further and hopes to reach an agreement with the other parties involved.
“My client’s interest is just to basically get the water in their business for serious commercial operation of agriculture,” Kudo explained.
The water commission is currently in deliberation and has not released a decision yet.
This story will be updated.