Hawaiʻi’s water commission reinstates 1st Deputy Kaleo Manuel following controversial redeployment
With pressure from the Maui County Council and others, the Hawaiʻi State Commission on Water Resource Management on Monday reinstated 1st Deputy Kaleo Manuel, who was “redeployed” following accusations by a land owner that he delayed access to water during the deadly Aug. 8 Lahaina fire.
The reinstatement was announced by Dawn Chang, Chairperson of the commission, and is effective immediately.
“I was informed today that the Attorney General has completed her review of this isolated issue,” Chang said. “I would like to thank Dean Uyeno for stepping in as the Acting Deputy Director of CWRM and appreciate his steady leadership of CWRM during this unprecedented time.”
On Aug. 15, the state Attorney General had requested that Manuel be deployed to another Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources while an “investigation of certain personnel events related to the August 8, 2023, Maui wildfires was completed.”
The press release of the announcement did not say what the investigation concluded.
Manuel’s removal as the top staff member of the commission angered many Native Hawaiians and conservationists across the state. Rallies have been held to support him. A lawsuit was filed in a Honolulu Court that said Manuel was illegally removed.
Council member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez introduced the resolution, which said “Deputy Manuel’s time as Deputy for the Commission on Water Resource Management is seen by members of the community as one of the most productive times for the Commission.”
In the state press release announcing Manuel’s deployment it said: “This deployment does not suggest that First Deputy Manuel did anything wrong. DLNR encourages the media and the public to avoid making judgments until all the facts are known.”
The redeployment came following accounts that West Maui Land Co. executive Glenn Tremble made a request to Manuel on Aug. 8 to divert water from streams to the company’s reservoirs in order to fight the Maui wildfires, and that request was not granted for five hours — too late to stop the devastating Lahaina fire.
During a press conference held by community activists on Aug. 18, Kekai Keahi (one of the two people who brought forth the lawsuit) said the rerouting of the water would not have helped fight the fires because the streams are not connected to county facilities or fire hydrants.
When Mauel was hired to the position in 2019, then DLNR Chair Suzanne Case, in consultation with the Gov. David Ige, announced the appointment saying: “Kaleo has a wealth of experience in the complicated field of water resource management and brings both western educational training and traditional Hawaiian values to the position.
“We are at a pivotal point of opportunity in Hawaiʻi to bring balance to water resource use and protection – in-stream, downstream and off-stream – consistent with the public trust, including aquatic life restoration and traditional and customary practices such as taro farming, as well as diversified agriculture for food security.”