Farmers, Advocates Rally for Restored Streamflow in Nā Wai ʻEhā

October 23, 2019, 2:28 AM HST · Updated November 19, 3:38 PM
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Community organizers staged a sign-waving demonstration outside of the state building on Tuesday evening to push for full streamflow in Wailuku, Waiʻehu, Waiheʻe, and Waikapū, also known as Nā Wai ʻEhā, or the four waters.

The rally was organized by Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā, a group of farmers and residents from the four regions. 

The group is a plaintiff in a contested case against Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar co., or HC&S- whose now-shuttered sugarcane operation in Central Maui diverted water from Nā Wai ʻEhā rivers for well over a century. 

“After 16 years of going through this contested case hearing, one is to ensure that our streams are flowing mauka to makai,” Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā president Hōkūao Pellegrino said when asked to explain the purpose of the rally. 

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Now, about 41,000 acres of the former cane fields belong to farming company Mahi Pono. 

The company plans to irrigate 3700 of those acres for diversified agriculture with water from Nā Wai ʻEhā.

Mahi Pono previously requested to reopen the contested case to take on a water use permit application that HC&S filed back in 2009. 

A decision- that would prolong nearly two decades of litigation for dozens of families and farmers like Pellegrino. 

“Todayʻs rally, really is to show our commitment first and foremost, to our streams, for them itʻs their bottom line,” Pellegrino added. 

Among the nearly 200 demonstrators were several Thirty Meter Telescope opponents.

The group usually meets at the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College for a protocol of hula and oli, or chants every weekday evening, but decided to move the meeting to show their support for the water rights activist. 

“In everything that we do, our message is to kūlike, or to stand together, because thatʻs the only way for us kānaka to holomua, to be able to progress.” 

In a statement released earlier today, Mahi Ponoʻs vice president Shan Tsutsui said it is not the companyʻs intent to reopen the contested case, but to reach an agreement, saying quote: 

“As we work to transition former sugarcane land into diversified agriculture that will increase local food production and help to achieve food security, we are also fully committed to improving efficiency and implementing technology to better manage our irrigation systems.

At Mahi Pono, we are committed to sustainable, responsible water use and will continue working with the community to find a viable solution that’s beneficial to the long-term protection of Maui’s water resources.”

But Pellegrino isnʻt convinced. 

“Weʻre not going to put up with the same kind of rhetoric that HC&S did…Mahi Pono thought they could do that when they first came but we wonʻt let them push us around anymore,” Pellegrino asserted. 

A hearing for closing arguments in the case has been scheduled for Nov. 19.

Until then, the wait for water continues for both sides. 

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