GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
East Maui farmer Beatrice Kekahuna displays the rotten bottom of a taro plant. She and other taro farmers say they are not getting enough water.
Maui farmers blame state for lack of water
East Maui farmers claim their taro crops are dying due to inaction by a state panel
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HONOPOU, Maui » Taro farmers in East Maui say their summer crop is being ruined by a lack of water and the failure of a state commission to maintain stream flows to their patches.
East Maui Irrigation supplies 126 billion gallons of water per year to its sister firm, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., and 3 billion gallons to Upcountry Maui residents and farmers. Alan Murakami, an attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said Alexander & Baldwin pays only one-fifth of 1 cent per 1,000 gallons for East Maui water, while most Maui farmers pay more than 35 cents per 1,000 gallons.
The state Commission on Water Resource Management is currently reviewing stream flow standards in East Maui.
GARY T. KUBOTA
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GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
East Maui taro farmers Stephen Hookano and Bush Martin stand in Waiokamilo Stream mauka of Hana Highway, where there is virtually no water flowing to the taro patches in Wailua. Taro farmers want more water released from ditch diversions in the mountains.
HONOPOU, Maui » Standing in stagnant water in a patch of wilting leaves, Beatrice Kekahuna pulls out a taro plant and presses her thumb through the rotting bottom.
"The taro's no good. We need more water ... but now with the drought, we're getting less water," said Kekahuna, 77. "We're getting less water than years ago."
Throughout East Maui a number of taro farmers say their summer crop is being ruined by the lack of adequate water and the failure of the state Commission on Water Resource Management to maintain stream flows into their patches.
Farmers have also criticized delays in responding to their seven-year-old petition to release more water, when the response period was supposed to be 180 days.
The commission is currently reviewing stream flow standards of five areas in East Maui, including Honopou, Hanehoi, Piinaau, Waiokamilo and Wailuanui. The comment deadline is tomorrow.
Water from some 27 streams in East Maui is diverted into a 74-mile system of ditches, tunnels and flumes operated by East Maui Irrigation, a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin Inc.
Besides providing 126 billion gallons a year to its sister firm, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., East Maui Irrigation supplies 3 billion gallons to Upcountry residents and farmers, about a fifth of Maui's population, Hawaiian Commercial said.
State water resources Deputy Director Ken Kawahara said determining stream flow standards is a complex issue and required studies to look at the natural and diverted stream-flow characteristics of the region and the effects of water diversions on selected stream species.
Kawahara said in reviewing the interim stream flow standard, the commission is also receiving economic information and weighing the importance of current and potential uses.
The commission, he said, "is moving prudently to ensure that all potentially affected parties have an opportunity to comment on the information."
THE DEVELOPMENT of the irrigation ditches to capture East Maui stream water began in 1876 by sugar growers Samuel Alexander and Henry Baldwin, under a government lease during the Hawaiian monarchy.
Native Hawaiian taro farmers have argued that the ditches are on ceded lands, a portion of which belongs to them under the Statehood Act, yet they have not received the benefits from the lands.
Alan Murakami, an attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said Alexander & Baldwin is profiting from the agreement with the state and pays only one-fifth of 1 cent per 1,000 gallons for East Maui water, while most Maui farmers pay more than 35 cents per 1,000 gallons for irrigation water.
Murakami said Alexander & Baldwin has never had to prove to the commission that the amount of water it diverts is actually needed.
"The law says the one who takes the water is supposed to prove that what they need does not harm the stream or the small taro farmer," he said.
Garret Hew, Hawaiian Commercial's manager of water resources, said he would like to sit down with the taro farmers and work out an agreement.
"We believe there's enough water to go around," Hew said. "We believe the water situation can be worked out."
Stephen Holaday, Alexander & Baldwin's president of agribusiness, said his firm is using the water efficiently.
Holaday said to conserve the use of water, Hawaiian Commercial has used drip irrigation in the fields.
He said the amount of water available through the ditch system fluctuates with the rainfall and drops significantly during summer months. The amount of water flowing through the ditches recently was about 20 million gallons a day, which is a low delivery level, he said.
"The problem is, there's a lot of below-average days, and there are some days when it's raining hard," he said.
Hawaiians point out at one stream in Waiokamilo, there is virtually no water flowing, endangering the health of the native species.
Kekuhuna said the stream flow at Honopou has been decreasing as more urban developments occur in Upcountry Maui.
Her niece Lyn Scott said the flow is not enough to water the taro patches, where temperatures have to be below 77 degrees to keep the plants from rotting.
"A lot of taro becomes rotten or stunted," Scott said.
Scott said Hawaiians at Honopou are not asking for all the water, but only a portion, enough to grow healthy taro the way they have in the past.
"We're not asking to close down anything. ... The issue is there's not enough for Hawaiians who live here," Scott said.
Drafts of the stream flow standard assessment reports can be found online at www.hawaii. gov/dlnr/cwrm or at the public libraries in Hana, Kahului and Wailuku.
Public comments can be sent to the Commission of Water Resource Management, state Department of Land and Natural Resources, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu 96809; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.