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Pending ruling restores water to 4 streams on Maui


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POSTED: Sunday, April 12, 2009

About 34.5 million gallons a day of water would be restored to four Maui streams under a proposed ruling by the state Commission on Water Resources Management, according to a news release from the environmental law group Earthjustice.

The streams are collectively known as Na Wai Eha, or “;the Four Waters,”; and consist of the Waihee River and Waiehu, Iao and Waikapu streams.

The proposed decision reached last week by hearings officer and water commissioner Dr. Lawrence Miike must still be approved by the full water commission board.

The 34.5 million gallons a day is about half the amount of water diverted from the streams for use by sugar plantations.

Community groups, the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the public-interest law firm Earthjustice sued in 2004 to restore the flows.

“;We don't want to put anybody out of business,”; said Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake. “;The problem is the off-stream users have taken it all although they have very viable alternatives to draining the stream dry.”;

Some residents in Central Maui want the streams restored for traditional uses, such as wetland taro farming.

OHA hailed the recommendation. According to an OHA news release, the proposed decision said restoring streams for native Hawaiian cultural practices will revitalize the “;spiritual well-being”; of Hawaiians in the area.

Moriwake is still reviewing the 210-page proposed decision, which looked at whether the sugar plantation needs all the water that it currently uses from the stream.

Two companies divert most of the stream flows from Na Wai Eha. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. runs a sugar plantation in Maui, while Wailuku Water Co., which sold its farmland for development, is selling the diverted stream water, according to an Earthjustice release. Attorneys for both companies could not be reached for comment.

The plantation has other sources of water and could eliminate some waste from its water system, Moriwake said.

“;Water is something that belongs to everyone and that needs to be shared,”; he said.

The deadline for objections is May 11, and a final decision will not come until at least this fall.