Fate of flow to be decided


POSTED: Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The state Commission on Water Resource Management will hold a decision-making meeting tomorrow to set in-stream flow standards for 19 East Maui streams, which have been used for more than 100 years to provide water for sugar in the Central Maui plains.

The meeting, which will take place at 10 a.m. at the Paia Community Center in Paia, Maui, is a follow-up to an October public fact-gathering meeting that lasted more than four hours and attracted several hundred testifiers including Gov. Linda Lingle, state Agriculture Director Sandra Lee Kunimoto and officials and workers from Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., the state's last sugar plantation.

“;As governor of Hawaii it is my responsibility to advocate for the decision that brings the most good to our community. I believe that decision must allow current users of these streams to continue to receive water in amounts that permit them to thrive and that allow agriculture in our islands to survive,”; Lingle said in her testimony before the commission in October.

During her testimony, Lingle cautioned commissioners that the decision that they would make would “;have consequences far beyond the streams”; that they were discussing now.

During the upcoming meeting, commissioners will set recommendations for the following streams: Waikamoi, Alo, Wahinepee, Puohokamoa, Haipuaena, Punalau/Kolea, Honomanu, Nuaailua, Ohia, West Wailuaiki, East Wailuaiki, Kopiliula, Puakaa, Waiohue, Paakea, Waiaaka, Kapaula, Hanawi and Makapipi.

Because of the finite supply of water from these streams, commissioners must set in-stream flow standards determining the amount of water required to flow in a stream for the protection of native fish and wildlife, recreation, scenic views and other beneficial stream values. Commissioners also must balance these in-stream uses with non-in-stream uses, such as water for drinking and home use, agriculture, cultivation of taro and hydropower.

In addition to satisfying sugar operations, the streams in question also have supplied surface water to Upcountry Maui residents for domestic and agricultural use.

“;While the proposed recommendations seek to balance the in-stream and non-in-stream uses, they were also developed in consideration of last year's decision by the commission,”; said Ken Kawahara, Water Commission deputy director.

A little more than one year ago, the commission amended the in-stream flow standards for the hydrologic units of Honopou, Hanehoi, Piinaau, Waiokamilo, and Wailuanui.

The latest decision could affect whether Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. (HC&S) is able to preserve almost 35,000 acres of agriculturally productive land on Maui and protect jobs for more than 800 workers and their families, Lingle said.

“;If HC&S went down, it would be a disaster for the state as well as the county,”; said Willie Kennison, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's Maui division director.

The upcoming water decision also affects residents of Maui who depend on these streams for their drinking water and electric power and in-stream species and habitat conservation, Lingle said. And, it is about preserving green spaces and Hawaiian traditional and customary uses, she said.

“;This is a matter that impacts our core value that Hawaii should remain a viable agricultural state in the midst of continued urbanization,”; she said.

Other testifiers at the October meeting were split between those who wanted the status quo preserved, those who wanted to see some water restored and those who wanted all the water in East Maui streams restored. At times the discussion even pitted East Maui taro farmers against larger agricultural entity HC&S, which requires massive amounts of diverted water to produce sugar.

Elaine S. Wender, a Haiku, Maui, resident, testified at the meeting while asking commissioners to put water back into the streams.

“;I ask you to imagine for a moment what East Maui would look like if the streams flowed free,”; Wender said. “;Then imagine a company coming in to try to build the system which now exists. I don't believe that anyone in this room would allow it to happen.”;