Maui water dispute is settled
The county might have to purchase land to cull from Iao and Waihee streams
WAILUKU » Two community groups and the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs have reached an agreement with Maui County on taking water from Iao and Waihee streams, which could involve the purchase of a plantation-era water ditch system.
Arakawa said yesterday during a news conference that he will ask Wailuku Agribusiness Co. to restore a sufficient flow of water to Iao and Waihee streams. Arakawa said if the landowner refuses, the county administration will seek to buy or acquire by condemnation the water system, owned by Wailuku Agribusiness and built to supply water to Maui plantations.
Based on past Agribusiness numbers, the estimated price is $7 million, he said. But Wailuku Agribusiness President Avery Chumbley said the county must also purchase more than 13,000 acres of watershed land around the water ditches.
"I don't know how you can separate the system from the land. You can't do that," Chumbley said.
Chumbley said he offered to sell the land to the county for $27.8 million in 2003, and remains open to negotiations for the whole watershed area.
OHA and the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which represents community groups Hui o Na Wai 'Eha and the Maui Meadows, said they will withdraw their opposition to Maui County's request for permits to take water from those sources.
Arakawa said he wanted to stabilize the price of water and feared a new landowner might raise prices significantly. "If we don't have control of the source, then we have the potential of having real financial problems," he said.
Arakawa said Wailuku Agribusiness officials were charging substantially more for water delivery, about 48 cents per 1,000 gallons, than another major supplier, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., which charges 6 cents per 1,000 gallons.
"We're still being charged these high rates because they can, and if they wanted to decide to change these rates, they very well could," he said. "I could not assure the public we wouldn't be paying $10 a thousand or $20 a thousand."
The water dispute began in July 2003 when the state Water Commission took over management of the Iao aquifer and required all users including the county to apply for permits. Arakawa said the county has been talking with small farmers, who said they cannot get enough water to work their farms.
Hui o Na Wai wanted Wailuku Agribusiness to release more water into the streams, but Wailuku Agribusiness told the group it had no excess water and that it was providing water to more than 1,000 acres of land being used for sugar cane, pineapple and other purposes.
Earthjustice attorney Kapua Sproat said she hoped the settlement would serve as a model for other counties, including the City and County of Honolulu, where water conflicts continue in the Waikane area.
Chumbley said his business has always been willing to sit down and talk with the administration about acquiring land, including 13,166 acres of forest reserve watershed.
Maui Councilman Dain Kane, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said he believes the agreement is a good start and that the idea of the county buying Wailuku Agribusiness's water system is better than the county purchasing water from a new landowner.
But Kane said he has questions about how the administration will fund an acquisition if it chooses to move forward with the purchase.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said the settlement has brought native Hawaiians "full circle" in trying to correct an error regarding the use of water at Iao. Restoring water to a region will help to ensure Maui's future and help native species, including the o'opu, a native goby fish, she said.