VIDEO: Decision Deferred in Debate Over East Maui Water

By Wendy Osher

A decision on the heated debate over water rights in east Maui will wait.  That’s the decision state commission members made today as they deferred action on stream flow recommendations at 19 east Maui streams.

On one side, taro farmers and subsistence users are fighting for cultural rights while employees at the state’s last sugar mill are fighting for their livelihood and jobs in a clearly slowed economy.

A full day of testimony concluded yesterday, but not without incident. The meeting was called into recess when Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. demanded time to fully express his thoughts on the issue.

Maxwell was among a list of more than 100 people who signed up to speak before the commission.  Testimony resumed well into the evening with those on both sides of the issue airing their concerns.  Activist Walter Ritte Jr. of Molokai also expressed frustration over the approach that he said focused on science instead of culture.

Attorney Alan Murakami with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. spoke on behalf of the group Na Moku Aupuni O koolau Hui, which filed the original petition to amend interim instream flow standards at a total of 27 East Maui streams.  A decision on eight of those streams was made last year, with the remaining waterways being the focus of current discussion.

Honopou Resident and life-long taro farmer Beatrice Kepani Kekahuna was among three residents listed on the original petition who are fighting not only for water rights, but for the continuance a lifestyle that some argue is being threatened by continued water diversions.

Kekahuna’s neice, and fellow Honopou resident, Lynn Scott said that although restorations were made to a portion of the Honopou stream last year, her family continues to struggle in maintaining a consistent source of water.

Meantime, workers and executives with Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company expressed the need for maintaining stream flows to their crops in central Maui.  HC&S general Manager Chris Benjamin was among those who testified.

Others in the agricultural industry also voiced support for the staff recommendation to keep flows at status quo in all but one of the 19 remaining streams.  Sandra Kunimoto, the chair of the department of agriculture, and Warren Watanabe, Executive Director of the Maui County Farm Bureau noted the importance of the island’s agricultural industry.

In addition to the benefits of keeping Maui green, Michael Ribao, Manager of the power supply at Maui Electric Company spoke of the indirect benefits of sugar production on the island’s clean energy supply.

With many families and businesses feeling the impact of a slow economy, the potential impacts of lost water to HC&S and the rippling impact on its workforce were among the areas of concern. We spoke with Willie Kennison, the Maui Division Director of the ILWU Local 142.

The State Commission on Water Resource Managementdeffered immediate action on the recommendations and plans to revisit the issue in three months.

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Maui Panel Of Professionals To Address Ag Furloughs

A panel of professionals on Maui will update the pubic on the impacts of potential furloughs facing the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.  Earlier this week, the state announced the temporary restoration of 22 plant quarantine inspector positions that were initially slated for elimination.  The temporary reprieve is good for a single year, but does not cover all of the cuts. Here on Maui, three positions will be eliminated for a total staffing of 11.  The presentation will be hosted by the Kula Community Association on Tuesday, October 6th.

Photo by Wendy Osher.

Photo by Wendy Osher.

The panel was organized by Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares as a way to bring the most up-to-date information to various Maui communities.

Panelists say potential impacts could result in threats to the environment, agricultural industry, tourism, and public health and safety.

The group of presenters include Anna Mae Shishido – Maui County Supervisor of the Department of Agriculture’s Plant Quarantine Branch, Warren Watanabe – Executive Director of the Maui County Farm Bureau, Teya Penniman – Manager of the Maui Invasive Species Committee, and Kuhea Paracuelles – Environmental Coordinator, Office of the Mayor.

The Kula Community Association will host the group at its next meeting, which will be open to its entire membership and the community-at-large. It will be held at the Kula Elementary School cafeteria on Tuesday, October 6th, starting at 6:00 p.m.

(Posted by Wendy Osher)

SURVEY COULD INFLUENCE FUTURE STREAM FLOWS FOR E. MAUI FARMERS

A survey being distributed to East Maui farmers could influence water designations for future instream flow standards.  The Maui County Farm Bureau began distributing the survey several months ago in the hopes of obtaining information on water usage and needs.  The information from the survey will help the farm bureau in its communications with the State Commission on Water Resource Management as it develops policies for instream flow standards as mandated by the State Water Code.  According to the state department of agriculture, these policies will have a direct impact on the amount of water that will be available for agriculture.  The deadline to submit the survey is May 28th.  The contact number for more information is 281-9718.

E. Maui farmers urged to submit survey that could have impact on future instream flow standards.  Photo of Keanae Loi by Wendy Osher 2009)

E. Maui farmers urged to submit survey that could have impact on future instream flow standards. Photo of Keanae Loi by Wendy Osher 2009)

The survey was distributed by the Maui County Farm Bureau (MCFB) requesting that farmers and ranchers submit agricultural water information. MCFB e-mailed a survey to agricultural associations, farmers and ranchers in East Maui County.

The information from the survey will help provide information to the Commission on Water Resource Management as it develops policies for instream flow standards as mandated by the State Water Code. According to the state department of agriculture, these policies will have a direct impact on the amount of water that will be available for agriculture.

All farms and ranches on East Maui receive their water from streams in East Maui.

Pertinent information that MCFB is asking for includes:

  • How is water used on your farm?
  • If changes have occurred, do you avoid planting during certain periods due to uncertainty of water availability?
  • What practices are done to make best use of water?
  • Explain the agricultural value & other values that result from the use of the water.
  • Are you are planning investments; and what are your assumptions are on the availability of water?
  • What will happen if your access to water was reduced?
  • If you have greater assurance of water, will you expand?

“Farming and ranching operations cannot survive without water,” said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, Chair-person of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.  “So it is imperative that East Maui farmers and ranchers participate in this survey as the future of agriculture depends on the availability of irrigation water.”

The deadline to submit the surveys is May 28.  Farmers and ranchers who have not yet submitted their information yet or have questions about the survey, may contact MCFB Executive Director Warren Watanabe at 281-9718.

(Posted by Wendy OSHER © 2009)