Maui News

EPA awards grant to local group for East Maui watershed project

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Ed Wendt, former president of Nā Moku Aupuni O Ko‘olau Hui, has been involved in the fight for East Maui’s water for decades. Photo Credit: Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. archive photo

Today, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced $350,000 in grants for three new projects that advance environmental justice in Hawai’i, including a watershed project in East Maui.

Nā Moku Aupuni O Ko‘olau Hui received a $75,000 EJ Small Grant to implement the Ke‘anae-WailuanuiCommunity Watershed Monitoring and Conservation Project.” The purpose is to enhance water stewardship by training the underserved community on the use of water quantity and quality tools alongside their regional and cultural knowledge.

During this one-year project, the training will educate participants to monitor 27 streams, tributaries and estuaries within the Ko‘olau District in Maui and foster a healthier watershed while supporting traditional and customary practices. These practices include subsistence gathering, fishing and taro farming. 

Earlier this year, a milestone decision by the state Supreme Court affirmed Native Hawaiian kalo farmers and subsistence gatherers in a long-fought legal battle over East Maui water rights. 


The federal grants, awarded through EPA’s national Environmental Justice Small Grants and Collaborative Problem-Solving programs, support underserved communities across Hawai’i in their efforts to address local environmental and public health issues.

EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman said the funding is awarded to innovative projects across Hawai’i based on community priorities. The funding comes from Congressional appropriations of the American Rescue Plan.

The projects cover a wide variety of environmental justice issues including community, environmental and public health education; sustainable farming; climate change mitigation; and resiliency.

The organizations in Hawai’i receiving grants are Trees for Honolulu’s Future and Kaunalewa on Kaua’i.


Trees for Honolulu’s Future received a $75,000 EJ Small Grant to partner with the Hawai’i Department of Education, local colleges and the organization Smart Trees Pacific to conduct outreach on urban heat island effects in central Oʻahu.

The organization will have five cohorts at four sites, intending to reach at least 250 students. They will train middle and high school students on collecting weather and soil data, and host discussions for students to identify solutions for heat mitigation and develop resiliency to disaster events exacerbated by climate change.

“We’re excited to train student scientists in grades 3 to 12 to investigate the impact of heat on their homes or schools,” said Daniel Dinell, President of Trees for Honolulu’s Future. “The project area suffers disproportionately as a heat island compared to other parts of Honolulu. Critically as part of the initiative, the children will come up with solutions to mitigate what is rapidly becoming a grave risk to human health and livability.”

Kaunalewa was selected for a $200,000 EJ Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement to improve health and well-being of the small, isolated community of Kekaha TownKekaha is identified as a food desert, and Kaunalewa will work to address this through environmental and health education.


Under this two-year project, it will look to expand produce access by 20% and decrease cost by 20%. They seek to build community capacity on gardening as well as support local small-scale farming programs that include youth.

They also will conduct research and sampling to educate the community on legacy pesticide and asbestos health impacts in order to understand community exposure and reduce the rates of health concerns associated with pesticide and asbestos exposure. Lastly, they will look to decrease rates of diabetes through healthy eating education.

The American Rescue Plan that was signed into law in 2021 provides more than 60% of the funding for these projects across the United States. Awards made with the plan focus on the unequal impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on communities of color, low-income communities and other vulnerable populations.

Learn more about EJ Grants by visiting EPA’s Small Grant Program and Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program websites.

Learn more about ARP funding at EPA’s American Rescue Plan website.


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