Big Isle group wants
ditch water for Waipio

A community association files
petition to increase water flow

By Pat Omandam

With the Waiahole Ditch controversy in its final phase, the state Commission on Water Resource Management now faces another issue over use of ditch water, this time in Waipio Valley on the Big Island.

The Waipio Valley Community Association filed a petition yesterday with the Water Commission to increase the amount of water flowing into eight valley streams, to help alleviate a water shortage in the valley.

Members also want the commission to return unused water flowing in the Lower Hamakua Ditch and the Lalakea Ditch. Combined, the two ditches divert an average 32.5 million gallons of water per day from the streams -- more than the Waiahole Ditch. The ditch water was used for sugar irrigation in Hamakua, but has been flowing unused into the sea since Hamakua Sugar Co. shut down its sugar operations.

"We're asking the Water Commission to restore to the streams in Waipio Valley the water that is currently running through the Lower Hamakua Ditch and not being used," said Paul Achitoff, managing attorney for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, formerly known the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.

"Since Hamakua Sugar went out of business a few years ago, almost none of the water in the ditch is being used, but they're still running it through the ditch," said Achitoff, who called the loss of water "unconscionable."

The streams involved in the petition include Alakahi, Kawainui, Ko'iawe, Wailoa/Waipi'o, Waima, Hakalaoa, Lalakea and an unnamed tributary of Lalakea Stream. The association wants to restore water flow in these streams for taro farming and growing flowers, as well as for raising crops, animals and fish, including o'opu (goby fish), opae (shrimp) and hihiwai (mollusks).

Unlike other areas in the Hamakua District, farmers say there are no alternative sources of water available in Waipio valley and that there is no substitute for naturally flowing streams.

They added that during normal- and low-flow periods, all the water in four of the streams is diverted to the Hamakua ditch, leaving the stream beds dry.

"For decades, the environment has suffered as Waipio Valley streams were drained for sugar," said Chris Rathbun, a taro farmer and member of the association.

"Now is the time to ask for some of the water back, and sharing is possible as long as the environment, Hawaiian practices and water rights in the vally are given first priority."

Jim Cain, another taro farmer, said as stewards of Waipio, "we must restore stream flows so that taro cultivation will continue for generations to come."

The state water code allows people such as farmers and native Hawaiian practitioners to petition the commission to change stream-flow standards based on compelling public need.

The association wants the commission to set sufficient flows for these streams, restore unused water from the ditches, as well as eliminate the loss of water from cracks due to disrepair of Lower Hamakua Ditch. Achitoff said that ditch, which has an average flow of 30 million gallons per day, hasn't been maintained since the sugar company closed.

Governor petitioned over water
commission adviser's firing

By Pat Omandam

Supporters of former state Deputy Attorney General William Tam today are expected to send a petition to Gov. Ben Cayetano, asking that he remove the "cloud of suspicion" that hangs over Attorney General Margery Bronster's recent firing of Tam.

The communitywide petition, which was also circulated among attendees at an Office of Hawaiian Affairs meeting yesterday, said Bronster's actions against Tam -- who served the state Commission on Water Resource Management for 16 years -- not only unfairly maligned his reputation, but seriously jeopardizes the independence of the water commission.

Supporters feel Tam's absence will delay work on controversial cases such as Waiahole Ditch, which is pending a final decision, while a new counsel learns the intricacies of water law and the background of water issues in the state.

"In simple terms, Bill Tam's firing has created the appearance of impropriety," the letter read.

"How can the attorney general, who appeared before the Water Commission in the Waiahole Ditch case on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and others, and who criticized the commission's preliminary decision, fire the commission's counsel in the middle of its deliberations?," it read.

Cynthia Quinn, special assistant to the attorney general, said her office is aware of the petition, but she doesn't not know what it says. Quinn said Tam was dismissed last month for misconduct.

Quinn stressed Tam's workload at the water commission has been assumed by other deputies, some of whom had worked with Tam on the Waiahole Ditch case.

Other questions supporters want answered include:

Whether the commission was consulted prior to Tam's removal.

Will Bronster allow the commission to pick its own counsel? If so, can it pick Tam?

Common Cause Hawaii took the lead in circulating the letter and petition, according to an Oct. 20 memo from Common Cause Executive Director Larry Meacham.

"Please join us in expressing your support for Bill Tam and the independence and integrity of administrative decision-making," Meacham wrote.

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