State to control Maui streams
Diversions from four waterways have been a source of contention
WAILUKU » A state commission has decided to take over management of four major streams in central Maui.
The decision Thursday marks the first time that the Commission on Water Resource Management has voted to designate a surface water management area.
Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake, representing Maui Tomorrow and Hui o Na Wai Eha, which sought the designation, said the decision will affect dozens of stream users in central Maui and has statewide implications.
Moriwake said the decision might also be applied to streams in west Hawaii and east Maui, where there have been disputes over water diversions.
Those diverting water or planning to divert water from Waihee, Iao, Waiehu and Waikapu streams will be required to apply to the commission for permits within a year from the publication of a notice.
Commission Chairwoman Laura H. Thielen said she voted for designation in light of continuing water disputes among users of these Maui streams.
"This is a pretty historic vote," Thielen said.
Maui County and Sierra Club Hawaii also supported the designation.
Wailuku Water Co. President Avery Chumbley, whose business is a major diverter and distributor of stream water, declined comment.
Wailuku Water's predecessor Wailuku Agribusiness stopped growing sugar cane in 1988 and macadamia nuts in the 1990s.
The company has been allowed to take water from its existing diversion, under interim stream flow standards established by the commission in 1988.
Small farmers have charged that Wailuku Water's stream diversions have continued despite decreasing demand.
Hawaiians said the lack of stream flow also threatens native wildlife, including hihiwai, o'opu, and opai.
Ed Sakoda, the chief of the state stream protection and management branch, said the lack of scientific information has made it difficult to show the effect of stream diversions.
Moriwake said the surface water management designation will help to provide more information about water diversions.
"It's one more step in better public management and oversight in stream resources," Moriwake said.
Moriwake said many of the people who are seeking more stream water own kuleana lands or lands that grant them rights to stream water.
Some residents said gaining access to stream water has been difficult if you're a downstream user and there is insufficient water.
Victor Pellegrino, a retired college professor whose wife inherited some Hawaiian ancestral land in central Maui, said there were some 2,000 taro patches in Waikapu in 1850 and now there are only three.
"We have them. We want to open nine more on our historic farm acreage, but we do not have enough water to open more than these three," Pellegrino said.
Teruo Kamasaki, a farmer, said he plans to apply for a permit.
Kamasaki said he used an irrigation pipe to divert water from a stream for 25 years but the pipe was broken three years ago by a bulldozer.