Environmental court orders A&B to further reduce stream diversions in East Maui
April 29, 2022, 7:37 AM HST
* Updated April 29, 8:05 AM
The Environmental Court reduced the amount of water Alexander & Baldwin and East Maui Irrigation Company will be allowed to divert from East Maui streams from 25 million gallons a day to 20 mgd.
This new diversion cap will be in place for the next 45 days or until the Board of Land and Natural Resources renders a decision in the contested case brought forward by the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi regarding the 2021 and 2022 revocable permits granted to A&B for a dozen East Maui streams.
“This is a big deal. This goes to show exactly how important the documentation of water usage is and why we’ve advocated for such data for years,” said Wayne Tanaka, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi director in a press release. “Over the next 45 days, 225 million gallons of water will no longer be at risk of diversion to fill A&B’s leaky reservoirs and aging infrastructure. This water will stay in its rightful streams and go on to supply much needed nourishment to native ecosystems and downstream communities.”
Maui Now reached out to A&B for comment on the order. A spokesperson responded saying:
“We are pleased the Environmental Court acted to extend the water permits, ensuring that important water supply to Maui residents, farmers, businesses, and public facilities would not be interrupted while the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ decision on the permits is finalized. The BLNR issued its proposed decision on the permits on the same day the court took action.”
In November 2020, the BLNR authorized A&B and Mahi Pono, through their shared corporation called East Maui Irrigation Company, to continue diverting up to 45 million gallons of water daily from dozens of east Maui’s streams, according to earlier reports. The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi argued that the companies did not offer evidence to support the need to continue its take of water at such levels.
In April of 2021, a ruling was issued in favor of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, Maui County, Alexander and Baldwin, and East Maui Irrigation in which the court concurred with trial testimony that “supported the core concepts that keeping lands in agriculture benefitted the public interest by providing jobs, food sustainability, food sources, strengthened the state and county economy, and dependable water was essential to achieve those ends.”
Last July, the court ordered the BLNR to hold the contested case and in the interim capped the diversions at 25 million gallons a day instead of the 45 million gallons authorized by BLNR.
Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. has a 150-year history in the islands, and is the only publicly traded real estate investment trust to focus exclusively on Hawai’i commercial real estate.
A&B reportedly owns, operates, and manages approximately 3.9 million square feet of commercial space in Hawai’i, including 22 retail centers, 11 industrial assets and four office properties, as well as 147 acres of ground leases.
The company’s water leases are at the center of an ongoing battle over water rights that stems from its use of water from island streams to support its agricultural operations over the years. The company’s Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company closed in December of 2016 marking an end of an era for sugar on Maui and in the state of Hawaiʻi.
At the time, Sierra Club wanted assurances that the water would be used for a beneficial purpose and would not cause environmental degradation or impact cultural uses going forward.