State Water Commission outlines actions and alternatives for West Maui water management

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Commission on Water Resource management. (Sept. 19, 2023)

The state Commission on Water Resource Management held a marathon 12-hour meeting Tuesday as it dealt with questions surrounding the State Water Code, the status of deputy Kaleo Manuel, and management of water resources in West Maui.

Dawn Chang, Chair of CWRM, explained, “Governor Green recently lifted the suspension of the State Water Code in Emergency Proclamation #7.    

During the meeting Chang emphasized that now that the Water Code has been reinstituted, the permitting process for both ground water and surface water applications continues. “We are in the preliminary stages of reviewing all received applications for existing and new water permits, assessing the water needs in light of the impact to West Maui, and coordinating with Maui County’s Department of Water Supply.” 

During the meeting, Chang acknowledged the overwhelming support received for water deputy Kaleo Manuel. 

The Chair of the Senate Committee on Water and Land Senator Lorraine Inouye (Senate District 1, Hilo, Paukaa, Papaikou, Pepe‘ekeo) co-authored a letter sent Thursday afternoon to the Chair Chang and the CWRM Commissioners calling for the issue of Manuel’s employment status, including his reinstatement as CWRM First Deputy, to be addressed by CWRM as an agenda item at the next meeting on Oct. 17, 2023.  


“I am perturbed that the removal of Kaleo Manuel happened without the members of the Commission on Water Resource Management even being consulted beforehand. The decision to remove Kaleo Manuel should have first been communicated to all the Commissioners,” said Senator Inouye. “Furthermore, Chair Chang does not have the power to unilaterally remove the CWRM First Deputy and to do so required a majority vote from the Commission. I would like clarity as to whose decision it was exactly to remove Kaleo Manuel from his position. Kaleo Manuel had an outstanding track record as the CWRM First Deputy, and he was always fair and balanced in his approach to making water conservation decisions. He always kept the Āina, and the water rights of the people of Hawai‘i front of mind when doing his job. Someone of Kaleo Manuel’s character deserved a better outcome than to be dismissed in the way that he was.”

After the fires, Chang tasked the CWRM leadership team to seek, in collaboration with the Maui Department of Water Supply, identification of alternative sources of water that could become immediately available to Lahaina. 

Wells in the Fire-Impacted Area 

On behalf of CWRM, officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement documented the integrity of water wells in the impact zone. CWRM staff analyzed photos taken by DOCARE officers and determined two of 12 wells sustained damage in the Aug. 8 fire.  

Ryan Imata, Hydrologic Program Manager for CWRM’s Ground Water Regulation Branch said, “The other 10 wells have structural integrity, though we remain concerned about the potential for contamination of these wells as debris removal begins in Lahaina. We will be conducting further checks on these wells and working with the Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Federal Emergency Management Agency to address any contamination issues.” 


Interim In-stream Flow Standards (Interim IFS) 

CWRM hydrologist Dr. Ayron Strauch painted a bleak picture for just how much surface water is available in the sector for domestic use, appurtenant rights, traditional and customary Native Hawaiian practices, ecosystem services, and for beneficiaries of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. 

“We have new data, supplemented by data from the US Geological Survey which will support the ongoing assessment of water availability and the impacts of off-stream demands on limited water resources. Interim IFS may have to change as our climate and hydrological conditions change. Drought conditions are bad and will continue to be so seasonally and annually,” Strauch said. 

Dean Uyeno, acting CWRM Deputy said, “We will continue enforcing current Interim IFS to ensure the needs of all the people of West Maui, have equitable and fair access to limited fresh water supplies.” 

Water Resource Alternatives 


Strauch also outlined potential options for Maui County to increase potable and non-potable water supplies in the Lahaina Aquifer Sector Area. 

He said repurposing existing infrastructure to bring reclaimed water (R-1) beyond Kāʻanapali to Lahaina and beyond holds great promise. 

Strauch explained, “There’s less water to go around as available surface flows continue to drop due to persistent drought conditions. Maui County has a great opportunity to offset these reductions by utilizing reclaimed water, which is the recycled water that flows out of treatment plants. Very little new construction would be necessary by using existing infrastructure.” 

Reclaimed water can be used to water crops, orchards, golf courses, and for landscape and irrigation purposes, according to DLNR officials. “There’s less seasonal fluctuation in source production,” Strauch told the commission. He said relining certain reservoirs and rebuilding some spillways may be all that’s needed to upgrade reservoirs for storage so that new pipelines can get R-1 water across the Lahaina sector. 

A second option identified during the CWRM meeting was repurposing development tunnels that have fresh groundwater discharging into streams. These tunnels tend to be at the higher elevations of the West Maui Mountains and this water could be gravity-fed to Maui County’s system. 

CWRM and the State Water Code came into existence in 1987, following a 1978 Constitutional Convention which established the need for a coordinated, statewide water resource management approach. 


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